On Monday, April 15, Minnesota Students for Liberty, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow and The Minnesota Republic hosted former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and were quickly met with the implications of free speech, surrounding a right-wing event on a largely left-wing campus.
The event, held in the Carlson School of Management, was to chronicle immigration issues, and what Sessions had learned from his time as serving in the Department of Justice as U.S. Attorney General for the Trump administration. In November of 2018, Sessions resigned when he was met with controversy regarding the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s affiliation with the 2016 elections. A redacted version of this investigation is expected to be available mid-April.
Sessions, who stressed ideas surrounding free speech, was swiftly met with around 15 protesters who were able to enter the event under alias names. Protests outside were heavily populated with Students for a Democratic Society, however it is not yet understood if the 15 admitted had any ties. The event proceeded smoothly with the assistance of University of Minnesota’s Police Department and private security.
Less than five minutes into his speech, Sessions was met with his first protester who stood up and proceeded to yell a monologue surrounding the conflicts of DACA. The protester was escorted out, and did not deter the focus of the event.
In response, Sessions said, “Whenever you have limits on any action, whether that is to qualify for food stamps, or whether you qualify for admission into the United States, some people will be told no. Right? This is the nature of life itself, and as you work and wrestle the big policy issues facing this country, I hope you will know that there’s always got to be that line.”
The discussion, which was on track to discuss Sessions’ time with the Justice Department, swiftly switched to tackling objectivity of law, and the de-politicization of laws.
“I am convinced that the American legal system is the best in the world,” said Sessions. “I have great confidence in the quality of our judicial system and I believe it is the foundation for our liberties and our prosperity. That an international corporation can invest billions of dollars, in Alabama, if they have a legal problem, they can expect to go to court and be received justice, and fairness in their treatment. Without that, they would be reluctant to come to the United States and invest in this country- it is one of the things that sets us apart in so many different ways- the part of our legal system that I think is exceptional, and we need to think about more today, is that it is founded on the belief of establishing the truth- what is accurate and what is true.”
However, protesters still remained adamant in the audience.
“I encourage all of us from this day forward to strive [to help] all of [incomprehensible] our brothers, sisters, neighbors to be prevented from being silent and not choose to be neutral in a time like this. Our silence, [incomprehensible] we can no longer be silent,” shouted a protester.
Most of those admitted under alias names seemed to be going off of a written script; however, due to the nature of Sessions’ speech and the shouting, a lot of the monologues fell incomprehensible to recordings.
The exercise of their free speech, although legal, created a disruption in the private event. Sessions, who is used to the backlash, gracefully continued his speech over the disruptions.
“There is no objectivity, just a series of perspectives,” Sessions quoted. “That to me is a philosophy contrary to our founding philosophy of the United States, and it goes to the core of who we are.”
Sessions, a stout supporter of true law, is referring to Obama, who believed judges should show more empathy, which in its rawest state, is not a true following of law.
“I no longer want to be a poster child, placed on a pedestal lifted by the western [incomprehensible]… I encourage us all form this day forward to be our brothers, sisters and stranger’s keeper… we can no longer be silenced,” screamed the 8th individual in protest.
“If you are just simply, unable to reject someone who enters a country unlawfully then you don’t have a legal system at all. We are back to a philosophy of open borders, and I think that is unacceptable,” said Sessions in response.
The protest was actually a good lead in to Sessions’ next point, where he highlighted that allowing individuals in and flooding a labor market actually hurts those immigrants.
“You flood a labor market with lower income workers, [incomprehensible] wages fall for lower income Americans. The bottom 50 percent, who make less than $50 thousand a year, are likely to get a hand in pay raise, but we haven’t had that knowledge in 20 years until the last year. There was a little increase in net wages of American workers, you can flood the labor market, it benefits the profit margins of corporations, but it pulls down the wages of [millions] of Americans, so in many of those who have wage declines, [they] are immigrants.”
“Legalization for all,” another protester interjected.
It became evident that a lot of the protests were based on feelings of suppression and upset with government, which Sessions later briefed that it seems as though Congress supports dysfunctional laws over functioning ones- citing this as the reason for unrest.
“We were sliding too much into politicization of law. Too much of this idea that, I got to say, one of the the stunning [quotes] that Obama made was when he said that judges should show empathy, he said, ‘I want judges who show empathy,’ well empathy is not law, what is empathy? Lies? Politics? Ideology? It is not law,” said Sessions.
The excitement of the night was when one protester got creative and blew an air horn, then continued to shout about legalization for all.
“Well, he did say he was for open borders, I think I heard him say that, and there are very few people in the United States who advocate that on the left and the right, some fall on the right. I think if you understand the world we live in, you have to know that this is an impractical thing. It cannot be the policy of the United States,” Sessions responded.
At University of Minnesota, students are strongly encouraged to voice their opinion, but it has it became increasingly evident that there is movements to suppress conservative voices.
The night concluded ever so disrespectfully with the final protesters displaying posters that stated things such as, “Your mother should’ve used abstinence,” or, “Keep your rosary off my ovaries” followed by them shouting, “You will burn in hell.”
It is to be understood that although this is an exercise of free speech, the First Amendment only protects you from being injured by government for your words; it does not by any means, protect you when you are engaging in disorderly conduct. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire established the Fighting Words Doctrine, in where disorderly conduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc. are not protected.
“Good intentions are not enough,” stated Sessions in conclusion to his speech.
Although the night was met with a lot of adversity, Sessions was in good spirits. After concluding, Sessions spent 20 minutes answering questions, taking photos with students, and then attended dinner with his wife and members of Minnesota Students for Liberty, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow and The Minnesota Republic, at The Capital Grille in Minneapolis.
*This article has been edited on the basis of a voice memo from the event, all quotations are accurate, and unless indicated by brackets “[ ]” have not been rendered from their spoken state.