Ranking Member Scott Remarks in Opposition to H.Res. 927
WASHINGTON – Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) delivered the following remarks during the debate of H. Res. 927, Condemning antisemitism on university campuses and the testimony of University Presidents in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
“I condemn antisemitism in all forms. Moreover, calls for the genocide of Jewish people have no place in reasonable discourse, and I condemn them. I did not think such a statement should be necessary, but in today’s context, it is necessary.
“These sentiments were shared repeatedly by Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth from M.I.T., and Elizabeth Magill from the University of Pennsylvania during their testimony last week.
“Unfortunately, because of the five-minute exchange towards the end of the hearing that was clipped and shared online without full context during the hours-long hearing, these university presidents’ commitment to fighting antisemitism has been called into question. This is because, during the clip, they answered the question asked. They made the mistake of believing the hearing was a serious attempt to ascertain what could be done to promote student safety on campus in light of the tensions between the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech on the one hand and the criminal code, Title VI and campus code of conduct on the other.
“Some speech, such as threats, can be so severe as to be criminal. Other speech could establish a hostile environment on campus in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Universities can establish codes of conduct prohibiting some speech while respecting the First Amendment.
“But any speech involved in the First Amendment analysis is likely to be reprehensible. The fact that it might be protected does not make the speech any less reprehensible and does not suggest that you even agree with it. A call for genocide of Jewish people is obviously reprehensible in all contexts – but whether or not it is constitutionally protected depends on context.
“Don’t take my word for it. Read the article published recently in the Harvard Crimson authored by Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried – former solicitor general during the Reagan Administration. In the article, Professor Fried states – and I quote –
‘When asked whether they would discipline students (or, I suppose, faculty) if they called for the genocide of Jews, each president responded that the answer depends on the context of the utterances.
'I have taught at Harvard Law School since 1961 and began practicing before the Supreme Court in 1985 — for four years as Solicitor General of the United States — and I would have felt professionally obligated to answer as the presidents did. It does depend on the context.
'In the 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that ‘constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or prescribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.’…
'Speech itself is, indeed, well-protected.
'The three university presidents head private institutions that are not bound in every respect by federal constitutional constraints. But each institution, in various ways, has declared itself committed to protecting First Amendment values over the years. So, it is not surprising that their presidents would have answered that whether they would discipline or expel students for advocating genocide depends on the context.
'If one seeks to follow constitutional principles, answering this question certainly does depend on the context.’
“That’s what Professor Fried said.
“That is the kind of analysis applied to any freedom of speech question. It is even being applied to former President Trump today – was his speech on January 6, 2021, a crime of inciting violence, or was it protected speech?
“Incredibly, the university presidents were directed to give a one-word answer: yes or no. They responded as Professor Fried said he would have been professionally obligated to do.
“It depends on context.
‘Regrettably, they took the question as an opportunity to seriously discuss the Constitutional implications of a complex question— that was a big mistake.
“And for that mistake, we are considering a resolution to condemn them and ask them to resign.
“I also think it is important to put this resolution in context— Because in 2017, after white supremacists walked through the campus of the University of Virginia, shouting, 'Jews will not replace us!' Democrats on the Committee requested a hearing on that incident, and nothing happened. Meanwhile, the one who declared ‘there were good people on both sides’ has been enthusiastically endorsed.
“We need to do everything the law allows to address antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination on college campuses. This resolution is not a serious effort to advance that cause. I, therefore, oppose this resolution and reserve the balance of my time.”
“I condemn antisemitism. I condemn calls for genocide of Jewish people— I guess in this context–that has to be repeated over and over again.
“I am also concerned about the polarization of college campuses and the disturbing rise of discriminatory incidents on college campuses.
“And, as I noted before, I am skeptical of the Majority’s new-found concerns about antisemitism on college campuses. Because as I said, in 2017, after white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia grounds shouting, “Jews will not replace us!” I do not recall the same level of outrage.
“In fact, I note that the endorsement of the one who declared that there ‘were good people on both sides.’
“I wrote a letter to the Majority requesting a congressional hearing at that time and our calls went unanswered.
“Mr. Speaker, I concede that the university presidents’ testimony last week— when taken out of context — fell into the First Amendment trap, that when you suggest that speech is protected, therefore you must agree with it.
“No, you can believe that speech is protected but also believe that it is reprehensible.
“And calling for [the] genocide of Jews is reprehensible in all contexts, but it could also be protected.
“Mr. Speaker, they answered the question the way Professor Fried said that he would have been professionally obligated to respond. But answering the question as posed should not warrant calls for their resignation.
“We need to do everything we can do under the law to address antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. This resolution fails to do anything to establish standards that can address reprehensible divisions in our society and on college campuses.
“So, I oppose this resolution, and I also urge my colleagues to vote no.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I yield back the balance of my time.”
Democratic Press Office, 202-226-0853
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