Open Letter: We Condemn President Trump’s Incitement of Violence

To our students and the wider HLS community,

We write to condemn a series of acts by President Trump that incite violence and are inconsistent with a democratic legal order.  On November 29th, the President circulated unverified videos that explicitly vilified members of a religious community as dangerous.  In his tweet, the videos appeared without any comment, context, or explanation, as if the fact that they concerned “Muslim” actors itself established their relevance.   In that way, the videos justified hostility towards individuals on the ground of their faith alone.  The President’s message further endorsed violence insofar as it expressly retweeted, thus apparently approving, a source convicted of religiously aggravated harassment.

On earlier occasions, President Trump has trivialized the use of excess force in policing and mocked if not licensed physical aggression against the media. When a candidate, he treated dismissively earlier boasts about sexual assault against women and encouraged crowd action against protesters. Such direct endorsement of abusive behavior breaches the minimum standards for public debate. We would add that the President’s recurring efforts to degrade individuals and groups fuel a culture that invites targeting and violence (e.g., here and here).

Political leaders have enormous power to shape the public narrative.  They inherit the legitimacy of their office, they draw on institutional structures that amplify their determinations, and they command unparalleled airtime and attention.   They have a corresponding duty to act responsibly for the welfare of the public.  We do not advocate constraints on speakers with particular, even reprehensible, views, but the obligation of a national leader to maintain the very conditions for open debate.  We take this occasion to disavow President Trump’s behavior as deeply damaging to our diverse democracy and the peaceful exchange for which we work as lawyers.

1. Christine Desan
2. Tomiko Brown-Nagin
3. John Coates
4. Jerry Frug
5. Adriaan Lanni
6. Kenneth Mack
7. Todd Rakoff
8. Carol Steiker
9. Ron Sullivan
10. Larry Tribe
11. Alex Whiting
12. Glenn Cohen
13. Bruce Hay
14. Randall Kennedy
15. Jeannie Suk Gersen
16. Intisar Rabb
17. Dehlia Umunna
18. David Shapiro
19. Morton Horwitz
20. Sabi Ardalan
21. Lucie White
22. Wendy Jacobs
23. William Fisher
24. Scott Brewer
25. Urs Gasser
26. Robert Greenwald
27. Frank Michelman
28. Lawrence Lessig
29. Daphna Renan
30. Robert Mnookin
31. Daniel Halperin
32. Duncan Kennedy
33. William Alford
34. Esme Caramello
35. Richard Parker
36. Susan Farbstein
37. Justin Murray
38. Michael Gregory
39. Charles Donahue
40. Andrew Kaufman
41. Elizabeth Kamali
42. Susannah Barton Tobin
43. Da Lin
44. Stephanie Davidson
45. Philip Heymann
46. Stephen Churchill
47. Debbie Anker
48. Jason Corral
49. Nancy Kelly
50. Phil Torrey
51. John Willshire Carrera
52. Cindy Zapata
53. Erik Encarnacion
54. Catherine Mondell
55. Salma Waheedi
56. Lisa Dealy
57. Jon Hanson
58. Jonathan Zittrain
59. Diane Rosenfeld
60. Michael Klarman
61. Marcia C. Peters
62. Mark Wu
63. Emily Broad Leib
64. Henry Steiner
65. Scott Westfahl
66. Michael Stein
67. Lloyd Weinreb
68. Mark Roe
69. Tyler Giannini
70. Reza Sadiq
71. Robert E. Proctor
72. Julie McCormack
73. Alexa Shabecoff
74. Lewis Sargentich
75. Jessica Field
76. Christopher Bavitz
77. Joan Ruttenberg
78. Paul C. Weiler
79. Lee D. Goldstein
80. Martha Field
81. Jordi Weinstock