A graduating Stanford law student was nearly denied his diploma after complaints about a satirical email invitation he sent imitating the school’s Federalist Society.
“The Stanford Federalist Society presents: The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection,” read the flyer sent to law students by Nicholas Wallace on Jan. 25. The date of the mock event was set as Jan. 6 from 12:45 to 2 p.m.
“Riot information will be emailed the morning of the event,” the flyer said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, both of whom are members of the Federalist Society and supported efforts to question the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory, were named as guests.
The Federalist Society is a national organization of conservatives and libertarians, which was formed in part to counter “orthodox liberal ideology” that they say dominates law schools and the legal profession.
“Senator Hawley will argue that the ends justify the means. Attorney General Paxton will explain that when the Supreme Court refuses to exercise its Article III authority to overturn the results of a free and fair election, calling on a violent mob to storm the Capitol represents an appropriate alternative remedy,” the mock flyer continued.
“Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government,” it said. “Although widely believed to conflict in every way with the rule of law, violent insurrection can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”
The Stanford Federalist Society followed up with a complaint filed in the university’s Office of Community Standards, saying that the flyer “attributed false and defamatory beliefs to persons he listed on the event flier.”
They also said he impersonated the Stanford Federalist Society, using their logo and event template, and that Stanford students and people outside the school who saw the event email on social media thought the event was real, harming the reputations of the group and its leaders.
Such complaints are met with an investigation that included legal guidance, according to a statement from Stanford. “In cases where the complaint is filed in proximity to graduation, our normal procedure includes placing a graduation diploma hold on the respondent,” the statement said.
While the Federalist Society’s complaint was filed on March 27, Wallace told NBC News he didn’t learn about it and the corresponding hold on his diploma until May 27th — his last day of law classes at Stanford.
On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education urged in a letter that Stanford release the hold on Wallace’s diploma, pointing out that satire is protected free speech.
Wallace said he was notified late Wednesday afternoon by the school’s Office of Community Standards that the investigation had been dropped.
Stanford’s Federalist Society did not reply to a request for comment on Thursday.
The statement from the school said “the complaint was resolved as expeditiously as possible, and the respondent and complainant have been informed that case law supports that the email is protected speech.” The hold on Wallace’s diploma was released.
“In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number and complexity of student cases involving free speech,” Stanford’s statement said. “We will continue to review policies and practices relating to these to ensure ongoing compliance.”
The university said it is also reviewing its policy on placing holds on student accounts during investigations that coincide with the timing of graduation.
In an email Wallace sent to Stanford’s law students and shared with NBC News, he thanked the community for their support.
“Whether we are demanding accountability from the people who supported the insurrection, challenging the ongoing deluge of voter suppression laws in state legislatures, reminding SLS administration that White Supremacy Lives Here Too, or brainstorming ways to decarbonize our society, it is vital that we keep the dialogue going,” Wallace wrote.
“With that in mind, I hope to work with Stanford in the little time I have left to make sure that no other student is subjected to an abuse of process in this way again, and to develop better protections for its students’ freedom of expression.”
He concluded: “PS this email is not satire.”