Dean Minow Encourages Students to Create a “Community of Respect”

The following letter was emailed to students by Dean Minow on May 3, 2016:

Dear students,

As the term ends, I write to express my best wishes for a productive and successful finish after a year of many accomplishments, challenges, and important discussions — and for all that is yet to come.

The idealism and concern demonstrated by so many this year point toward ways to build stronger communities here and elsewhere. I commend the creative and generous efforts by so many in clinics, journals, and student organizations, and the compassion and care that you have shown for each other during some difficult moments. These gifts of personal generosity and community are vitally important, especially when constructive dialogue has sometimes been overshadowed by expressions of prejudice, misguided fears and other emotions. Continue reading “Dean Minow Encourages Students to Create a “Community of Respect””

Fighting the Impulse to Harm

The following is not directed at any one group, person, or incident. The opinion belongs solely to the author.

After recent events during this “Harvard Law Spring,” let’s pause. Do we want to inhabit a culture of human dignity, or an honor culture where every slight is met with face-saving, self-important insults? Do we want to transcend harm–or to cause it? Do we want to allow the indignant ill will swirling within our flawed human souls to overflow, or to temper such poison with its only true antidote–empathy?

Our professional goals lend these questions import. As lawyers, we will be responsible for how the state directs its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. To me, this means we must rise above “the impulse to do harm,” which is something humans naturally feel after being slighted. We must suppress our biases. We must embrace System 2 thinking over System 1 impulse. We must strive to see others, especially others who are “the Other,” as human beings rather than political beings.

Continue reading “Fighting the Impulse to Harm”

A Note from the Editor-in-Chief on a Piece I Chose to Retract

A message from Editor-in-Chief Michael Shammas ’16 on a piece we retracted earlier today:

The Record is run by multiple people and not everyone sees posts as they are submitted. Nor do we all evaluate posts at the same time.

Usually, there is no need to have a “sign off” from more than one editor when we publish posts, because usually Harvard Law School is not embroiled in situations like this.

In this case, the editorial board had a disagreement after some editors saw the post online when other editors hadn’t yet had a chance to thoroughly evaluate the piece. I made the final call to take the piece down for a variety of reasons, which I think are all consistent with running a paper that furthers free discourse and debate. I don’t know if my decision to remove the piece was correct or not — God knows, plenty of people have criticized me for it. Some people who disagree with those people have criticized me for the piece’s momentary existence on our website.

Indeed, another editor made an excellent argument for why the Record should run the piece. I disagreed. Again, perhaps I was wrong for retracting the piece. I honestly see both sides of the argument, and I went with my gut instinct.

Since our team is taking so much time out of our schedules to serve as a platform for this discussion, we hope that you continue (honestly, for many of you, “continue” should read “begin”) to treat the masthead, made up completely of volunteer law students, with respect, understanding, and empathy.

Thank you.


Harvard Law Students, Allow Me to Say Something Controversial: You Might Be Wrong

Editor’s Note: There is a blurb at the end of this essay on steps the Record will take to improve the tenor of the ongoing discussion at the law school.

Over the last few days, I’ve struggled to come up with an article that captures my conflicting thoughts about what’s going on right now at Harvard Law School. I’ve been depressed that the maturity of an important discussion on group identity has utterly failed to meet even the low standard set by my family’s internecine Lebanese dinner parties. So initially I came up with four words instead, words that are apparently controversial here at Harvard Law School, but thatwhen applied to allfacilitate respectful debate: “You might be wrong.”

I wince to realize that saying even this might be controversial in our current climate, where everyone is only too eager to make sweeping assumptions about the motives of their classmates. Even now, some of you are reading this through the lens of assumptions about who I am; these assumptions are coloring your perceptions of my motives, which are in turn coloring your willingness to process my argument with empathy, or even fairness. It’s okay; I do the same thing. We’re only human. Still, as I sit wrapped in a blanket, pre-coffee, staring at my favorite JFK poster on conformity being “the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth,” I realize that the fear of speaking because one might be wrong is also a “jailer of freedom” and an “enemy of growth.” Ditto for the fear of speaking due to possible blowback.

So let’s get to business.

Continue reading “Harvard Law Students, Allow Me to Say Something Controversial: You Might Be Wrong”

A Note from the Editor-In-Chief on My Decision Not to Publish Videos Filmed Without Student Consent

Over the past few hoursinterrupting my best efforts to finish up the (amazing) last few episodes of DaredevilI’ve received numerous emails, most expressing disappointment, concerning my decision not to publish videos we received of anti-Reclaim posters being taken down or moved. My rationale for not publishing the videos is below; and unless something changes drastically, the decision is final.

What is my rationale? A simple one: Consideration for our fellow students, both pro-Reclaim and anti-Reclaim. We are all imperfect; we all make mistakes, say things we don’t necessarily intend, and get frustrated. Moments of passion, filmed without the consent of a given student, under circumstances thrust upon them, should not be preserved for all time. This rationale protects students on both “sides” of the recent controversy.

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Dean Martha Minow Reaffirms Harvard Law’s Commitment to Free Expression in a Letter to the Community

On April 1, Dean Martha Minow sent the email below to the entire law school community, reaffirming Harvard’s commitment to free expression and freedom of conscience. Earlier this week, students from Reclaim Harvard Law repeatedly removed critical signs posted in “Belinda Hall.”

Dear members of the Law School community:

As our community has focused on questions of race and inclusion, which we regard as issues of pressing importance to the nation and our community, the Law School has respected the extraordinary use of the WCC lounge as a space for protest and discussion. When a shared space is made open for such a purpose, even temporarily, the values of free exchange that define an academic community require that every member of the community has the right to use that shared space to express views, to express differences, to engage in debate. That freedom to disagree makes us stronger and better. It is essential to the integrity and success of an academic communityand especially to members and future members of the legal communitythat we operate on the bedrock foundations of openness and free debate. Continue reading “Dean Martha Minow Reaffirms Harvard Law’s Commitment to Free Expression in a Letter to the Community”

Harvard Law Campus Erupts in Spontaneous Expressions of Love & Understanding

Reports incoming that HLS students of all political ideologies are coming together in kindness and love today, really trying to empathize with one another and to understand different points of view. FedSoc members have admitted that “maybe that Obama guy isn’t so bad after all,” while Bill Barlow ’16 was spotted in Belinda Hall giving hugs of kind understanding to all. HLS Dems, embroiled in a brutal civil war over whether to support Bernie or Hillary, have called a temporary ceasefire. Keep your eye on the Record for developments to this heartwarming story.

In Response to Dissenters Like “Winston Syme”: You’re Censoring Yourself

“A book [or a protest movement] must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” —  Franz Kafka

Recently, a Harvard Law student going by the pseudonym “Winston Syme” submitted a Letter to the Editor labeling Belinda Hall protesters “bullies.” This article is a response from the editor-in-chief.

 “Oh wow, I got into Harvard Law,” I said. “It’ll be such an exciting place—full of dynamic discussion and politically active students, the Ralph Naders and Barack Obamas of the world.” (At least, I’m sure I said something like that….)

I was naïve.

Upon starting law school, I found a place brimming with interesting people—yet they were largely repressing their interestingness. Why? Because, they were too scared to speak. To engage. To be real. The sentiment runs like this: “How will I ever be a judge unless I’m a legal automaton who keeps opinions to himself?!” Or, in the Reclaim Harvard Law context, like this: “Oh my God, what if someone calls me a name—worse, implies I’m a racist?!”

Oftentimes, these are the same people who complain of censorship. The students (like “Winston Syme” or the asses behind Royall Asses) who object to some or all of Reclaim’s demands, yet never openly voice their convictions. The ones who refuse to enter Belinda Hall because they feel frightened someone will disagree with them in a way that’s uncomfortable, demeaning, or that paints them as a “white oppressor” abstraction instead of a human being.

If you’re one of those students, cowering within yourself in disagreement, you’re doing yourself a disservice—not because you’re wrong, but because you’re depriving yourself of an opportunity to learn and grow.

This article is for you—the students who, alongside Winston Syme, sit in quiet or anonymous dissent. I’ll attempt to convince you that while you’re admittedly right about a small minority of activists when you fear stigmatization and shaming, you’re wrong about the vast majority—who have generally become extremely accommodating of dissent. I’ll attempt to convince you that what’s happening in Belinda Hall right now is a good thing, especially if you disagree with some of it or all of it.

Why? Because Reclaim Harvard Law is bringing life to this habitually-stuffy campus.

A flower’s penetrating the ice.

Continue reading “In Response to Dissenters Like “Winston Syme”: You’re Censoring Yourself”

After Months of Advocacy and Debate, Harvard Law Recommends Shield Change

As you’ve likely heard by now, Harvard Law School has recommended changing its shield. This decision comes after months of advocacy and debate. Most recently, a Record-conducted poll found that more than fifty percent of students support changing the shield.

You may read Dean Minow’s transmittal letter here:

You may read the committee’s report and recommendation here:

You may read a dissenting opinion by Professor Gordon-Reed (a member of the shield committee) here:


Secretary Clinton, Join Bernie Sanders & the Democratic Party: Oppose Capital Punishment

The story of the Democratic primaries is Hillary Clinton’s leftward shift. (It remains unclear whether the story’s a fiction.) Strangely, a key position she’s not yet “evolved” on is held by more Republicans than Democrats: She’s pro-death penalty.

Yes, Hillary’s said that execution should be reserved for “particularly heinous” crimes, that there should be adequate safeguards against wrongful convictions.

But as a former defense attorney, Hillary knows better. She knows there’s no consistent way to reserve executions for just one sort of “heinous” crime. She knows, for sure, that no matter how many safeguards there are, innocents will die. As with drone strikes, so with state-sanctioned homicide: There’s always collateral damage.

The collateral damage isn’t pretty; and given her red herring stump speech, wherein she maintains that she focuses on progressive issues like racism and crime while Sanders is a one-issue candidate, disregarding it reeks of hypocrisy.

Continue reading “Secretary Clinton, Join Bernie Sanders & the Democratic Party: Oppose Capital Punishment”

How Dare Bernie Run!

“I wish he’d go away already.”

From fellow Democrats, the refrain’s relentless. Why’s Bernie running? Why won’t his naïve supporters get real? Some of my female friends supporting Sanders are implored with special force and added frustration: Get in line! The socialist has no chance. He’s unrealistic.

But is he really? Much of Sanders’s platform, the aspirational parts diverging from Clinton’s, are already reality in Northern Europe. Marijuana decriminalization. Death penalty abolition. Free or nearly-free college. Single-payer healthcare. What’s more, they have surprising amounts of cross-party support, united by a populist public that’s becoming increasingly convinced that party elites only pretend to care about their well-being.

Continue reading “How Dare Bernie Run!”

From Trump Rallies to College Campuses, Outrage Culture Is Killing Productive Discourse

President Obama took a lot of heat recently for criticizing college leftists who are offended by dissenting opinions. But he’s absolutely right: Productive discourse is dying, trampled over by closed minds who value comfortable opinion-holding over uncomfortable soul-searching. As dialogue lies flailing and gasping, outrage culture’s pulse is stronger than ever. We see the degraded consequence everywhere.

We see it in Donald Trump’s xenophobia. We see it in the smug rise of a regressive, illiberal “liberalism” on college campuses that interprets (and misinterprets) the other side’s words in the most negative possible lighteven trifling dissent is labeled a product of white male privilege or (when the opponent is neither white nor male) simple ignorance. We see it in any online comments sectioncesspools of racism, sexism, xenophobia, naked hatred. At its most extreme, we see it in tribalistic mass murderers, from Dylann Storm Roof to the San Bernardino shooters.

Continue reading “From Trump Rallies to College Campuses, Outrage Culture Is Killing Productive Discourse”

A Note from the Editor-in-Chief: Why I Don’t Censor Conservative Articles

This note represents a letter to the community as well as my own attempt to sort through how to be a good ally against on-campus racism while still exhibiting proper journalistic ethics—ethics that demand free and open discourse. 

In an article I wrote earlier this year, “We Owe Each Other a Moral Community,” I said that to create a moral community “we need to talk to one another, to stop judging our fellow classmates—way too many of us are already judges—and to start empathizing with them instead.” I wrote that the value added of an independent paper like The Harvard Law Record, in addition to publishing investigative pieces the law school won’t touch, is that it provides a forum for law students to speak with each other, to learn from each other, to take advantage of all the diversity (not enough) that this place has to offer, including our ideological diversity. Continue reading “A Note from the Editor-in-Chief: Why I Don’t Censor Conservative Articles”

Harvard Law Professors & Scholars: State Governors Have No Legal Authority To Block Refugees

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, more than half the nation’s states are vowing to bar Syrian refugees. But do they have the legal authority to do so? Harvard Law professors say the answer is clear: No.

“States do not have the legal authority to deny refugees entry,” said Phil Torrey, a Lecturer on Law with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and the Supervising Attorney for the Harvard Immigration Project. “Immigration laws are the sole purview of the federal government.”

Continue reading “Harvard Law Professors & Scholars: State Governors Have No Legal Authority To Block Refugees”

An Open Letter to Governor Pat McCrory & Other Republican Governors: Let the Syrian Refugees In

Michael Shammas ’16 grew up in Eastern North Carolina and is the son of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in the United States during the Lebanese Civil War. He is now a third-year law student at Harvard Law and is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record.

What a precious human life we all have. The thin container wrapping this life—its color, its gender, its religious claims and political delusions … it’s all nothing next to the inexplicable miracle that is a human consciousness. To stifle such an irreplaceable possession, as hate-crazed men did in Paris last week, is a crime without equal.

Within its delicate container, a consciousness—a human life—thrives or shrivels to the extent that its environment is rich or decrepit, peaceful or violent. Too many places on this earth are trash heaps of wrenching poverty, or of violence that sizzles over pools of hatred too deep for many Americans to comprehend.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to Governor Pat McCrory & Other Republican Governors: Let the Syrian Refugees In”