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Law Student's Satirical Flier Jeopardized His Diploma

But Stanford will let Nicholas Wallace graduate after all, following mockery of Federalist Society
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2021 11:26 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's nearly graduation day at Stanford, but a free-speech controversy on campus has stolen some of the attention. The details of what's happening:

  • In January, a few weeks after the Jan. 6 riots, Stanford law student Nicholas Wallace put out a fake flier mocking the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian group with a chapter at the campus law school, reports the New York Times. The satirical flier invited people to a how-to-riot seminar on Jan. 6 sponsored by the chapter, featuring speakers such as Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
  • "Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government," read the online flier, per the San Jose Mercury News. "Although widely believed to conflict in every way with the rule of law, violent insurrection can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government."

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  • The post went viral, even prompting a USA Today fact-check confirming that it was, in fact, satire. The campus chapter of the Federalist Society filed a complaint with the school saying that Wallace's flier had defamed its members, and the university informed Wallace on May 27—the last day of classes—that his diploma was being put on hold pending an investigation.
  • The investigation drew national attention after an article in Slate, prompting reactions such as this from Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii: "Stanford is not letting a student graduate because of political satire that offends a powerful organization dedicated to installing conservative judges?" he tweeted. "How is this taking any longer than 15 minutes for them to reverse and apologize?" The rights group FIRE, or the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also backed Wallace.
  • On Wednesday, Stanford announced that it would allow Wallace to graduate after all on June 12.
  • Two views on the controversy: The local chapter complained that because Wallace used its official logo, "many ... were deceived" into thinking the seminar had been real, per the Mercury News. On the other hand, "a reasonable person can't read this email and think on the morning of Jan. 6, Sen. Hawley was actually in Northern California teaching students how to riot," Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with FIRE, tells the Washington Post. "That's why it's ironic. That's why it's satirical."
(Read more Stanford University stories.)

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