CUNY Law School: Still Intolerant

Granted, the law school at CUNY, City University of New York, isn’t Yale or Stanford. Still, it’s a law school and many of its graduates will go on to become lawyers., often as public defenders. As such, they will find themselves in the trenches, their efforts spent on behalf of defendants who desperately need competent, if not excellent, representation. Much of the time, they will find those efforts rejected by judges who will not be persuaded by their most passionate beliefs.

Will they be capable of serving their clients? Will they be capable of tolerating judges who rule against them? Will they be capable of working within the decorum required of lawyers in the trenches? Their behavior at graduation raises a serious doubt.

On Friday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams was the graduation speaker at the City University of New York Law School. One might think that the Democratic politician, who was elected in one of the most Democratic cities in the country, would receive a warm welcome from the second-most liberal law school in the country. But no. He was too conservative for the students. Adams was protested.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is not a favorite of progressive New Yorkers. Former Brooklyn public defender turned twitter activist Scott Hechinger called him “the worst mayor in history,” which might be a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, many of the CUNY students decided that this was a good time to let Adams know how they felt about him.

RIGHT NOW. At the CUNY Law school graduation. Graduates turn their backs on NYC Mayor Eric Adams. A protest against his terror against Black & brown communities, public education, libraries, migrants, health & safety. His support for state violence. Wow.

— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) May 12, 2023

If turning one’s back on the mayor sounds familiar, the New York Police Department did the same thing to former progressive Mayor Bill deBlasio at the start of his first term. If CUNY students heckling and disrupting an event sounds familiar, they did the same thing to Josh Blackman when he was there to speak about free speech. And this trend appears to be very much alive in New York City, in general, and CUNY, in particular. They were not without their supporters.

The new grads did not disappoint during the speech. Lots of heckling, most grads turned their backs

— ɐılıs (@ilissilia) May 12, 2023

That some, if not most, of the students hate Mayor Adams is entirely their choice. Regardless of the fact that he was elected over more progressive candidates, as well as the Republican candidate for mayor, is irrelevant to their views of his actions as mayor. As such, they are fully entitled to protest against him, speak ill of him, and take him to task for whatever they find unacceptable about his management of New York City.

But this was graduation, and as this was the city university and he is the mayor of the city, he was their speaker. They need not applaud him, but instead the heckled him. They gave him the finger. They turned their back on him. The demonstrated intolerance, a lack of civility, a lack of decorum. Irony aside from those who claim the high ground on respect for the feelings of others, they behave poorly.

Some will take cover by arguing that this is just free speech in action, and, indeed, it is. But the right to behave poorly doesn’t mean you should. More to the point, these are law school graduates, about to embark on a future in the law where they will come to learn that neither their politics nor their feelings are the center of the universe, no matter how many times they’ve been told otherwise. They will come before judges they despise, and will still call them “your honor” and abide their rulings. Or they will be led into the back for contempt during their short-lived legal career.

As with other childish indulgences, the heckling of the mayor at graduation reflects an inability to control one’s worst instincts and to give in to their most infantile impulses. They could have accomplished their protest by being silent, withholding any applause and, without engaging in offensive behavior, let Mayor Adams know they are angry with his policies. But they heckled him, the gave him the finger, they turned their backs instead, feeling empowered to affirmatively let the Mayor of New York know that these very self-important law school graduates felt empowered to make sure he knew how much they hated him by yelling it to his face.

This bodes poorly for their ability to restrain their worst impulses, their narcissistic impetuousness, in the courtroom when they hold other people’s lives in their hands. Can they control themselves, even when they aren’t pleased with the circumstances? Can they put the interests of their clients ahead of their own feelings? Can they do what needs to be done to defend the people for whom they feel such passion when that requires them to behave civilly, to abide decorum and to tolerate judges they despise?

Law school is more than just learning about the law, but learning to be a lawyer. The CUNY graduation suggest this is a lesson that was neither taught nor learned. Their conduct at graduation was intolerant and indulgent. These are not the characteristics of good and effective lawyers.

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