To: Harvard Law Administrative Board
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on Harvard Law administrators to drop the ongoing investigation against Harvard Law students Amanda Chan (JD ‘20), Anna Nathanson (JD ‘20), and Felipe Hernández (JD ‘20) regarding allegations that they violated the Law School’s Protest and Dissent Guidelines and Community Principles for participating in a 10-minute silent protest over Harvard’s investments in prisons in 2019.
The NLG is a national progressive bar association with a membership composed of over 6,000 lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers. Since 1937, the Guild has fought to protect the right to protest in pursuit of social justice. Law students are an important component of the Guild’s membership, and often take positions at their own law schools to further progressive causes. We support the brave work of student protesters, and are deeply concerned about the treatment of these three Harvard Law students–one of whom is also a NLG member–by the Harvard Law administration.
The attempt by Harvard Law to punish student protesters is unfortunately part of a broader trend of right-wing efforts to suppress dissent on university campuses, especially the voices of more progressive and liberal students. Conservative groups such as the Goldwater Institute and Ethics and Public Policy Institute have been pushing model legislation in many states to increase punishments for individuals and student groups who openly protest on their campus. Harvard Law’s willingness to perpetuate this trend by punishing students for a silent protest against the humanitarian crisis of over-incarceration is extremely disappointing and further contributes to the chilling of dissent in university settings.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that most of the students being sanctioned for this protest are people of color, although many white law students participated. Given the long delay in bringing these allegations, the questionable basis for investigating these students, and the appearance of targeting of non-white students, we demand that Harvard Law drop this investigation immediately. The continuation of this investigation during a global pandemic when law students are all struggling with income, grades, online courses, and an uncertain job market is alarming and unjust.
Finally, as an abolitionist organization, the NLG fully supports the original motivation and execution of the silent protest at the 2019 Fall Reunion. Prison divestment is a growing strategy of addressing the horrors of mass incarceration, and students have a vested interest in ensuring the institutions they are part of are not perpetuating these harms. The Guild encourages our student members to fight back against the current prison system, most notably in our annual Week Against Mass Incarceration. We call on Harvard Law to focus their attention on divesting from the broken mass incarceration system rather than punishing individual students using their right to free speech to advocate for incarcerated people.
On behalf of the NLG and our membership, we call on Harvard Law to immediately drop the investigation against these students.