Note: I sent this to the dean of Harvard Law school on May 14.
I am deeply disappointed to read that Harvard Law School has decided to terminate its first black faculty dean because that dean is representing an accused criminal. This has serious implications for academic freedom, civil liberties, free speech and due process. Worst of all, it reinforces a racist paradigm that we should have moved past generations ago.
A basic function of our criminal justice system is that every accused criminal has the right to counsel – a right enumerated in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of these United States. Our founders knew that it was critical to our liberty to have effective representation, and that a basic principle of our system is that it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to go to prison. We have seen horrible injustices when innocent people are convicted, from the Central Park Five to Bernard Baran and Christopher Clugston.
It is sad that arguably the nation’s most prestigious law school has abandoned this critical principle in favor appeasing a mob throwing a tantrum. The issue is not “whose side” Ronald Sullivan is on. The issue is a fundamental protection to ensure due process and protect civil liberties. Even the worst criminals deserve to be represented in court, and it is the government’s job to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The fact that Mr. Sullivan has been terminated due to legal representation of a client outside the classroom shows a disdain for free speech and free association that is not compatible with academic freedom or the free exchange of ideas. A better solution would be to expel the “students” who are vandalizing university property. Harvard Law should have told the people demanding the termination of Mr. Sullivan that Harvard will not cower before the mob and that they can go elsewhere if they cannot handle the due process and civil liberties they are supposed to defend as attorneys.
Finally, the fact that Mr. Sullivan was terminated props up and reinforces a racist mindset in our justice system. As you know, blacks are much more likely to be convicted and incarcerated than whites, and there are many racist assumptions about black “thugs” that contribute to this situation. It is critical for black people that we have the right to counsel, so it is even more upsetting that a black attorney has been terminated for upholding this critical constitutional right.
The downstream effects of punishing someone for representing accused criminals will not be on ultra-rich Hollywood producers, but poor black men who cannot afford representation. You cannot claim to be protecting the downtrodden when you embrace the worst aspects of a “tough on crime” mentality that has hurt so many in the black community.
Harvey Weinstein is a creep, a pervert and a sexual deviant. I have no doubt that he is a rapist and in a truly just world he would have been in prison decades ago. But even the worst criminals have the right to representation in a court of law, when prosecuted by the state. This used to be something that all of us understood – especially prestigious institutions like Harvard law. That is no longer the case, and that is a tragedy.