A petition calling on Harvard Law School to bar former Trump administration officials and politicians who were “complicit” in the former administration’s “immoral” actions from joining the school’s ranks garnered more than 200 signatures from HLS affiliates as of Tuesday.
Addressed to Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 and other administrators, the petition described the Capitol Hill riots on Jan. 6 as “a shocking and horrifying attack,” and argued that the University’s values are “incompatible” with the Trump administration’s “abhorrent acts.”
“Harvard Law School must refuse to serve as a tool to launder the reputations of those who crafted and enabled the Trump administration’s anti-democratic, anti-immigrant, racist, and morally reprehensible abuses,” the letter read. “We call on Harvard to commit that it will not hire or affiliate with any senior official in the Trump administration or Congressional leader who was complicit in the administration’s immoral actions.”
Emma R. Leibowitz, a first year Law student and member of the Harvard chapter of the People’s Parity Project, said she and several other colleagues felt compelled to create the petition following the Capitol insurrection.
“It was such a stark and striking culmination of the anti-democratic, racist, xenophobic policies and rhetoric that the administration and its major supporters in Congress espoused,” Leibowitz said.
The petition requested a response from administrators by Feb. 10, but none came, per Leibowitz.
Harvard Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal declined to comment on the petition.
In a faculty meeting earlier this month, University President Lawrence S. Bacow defended the importance of free speech at Harvard, but also said that those who appoint individuals to positions at the University should bear the responsibility of defending their appointees’ worthiness in those roles.
Amanda A. Harris, a first year Law student, said she learned about the petition on social media and signed it because of Harvard Law School's influence.
“Our institution occupies a place of great power and influence in the legal space and in American democracy and history in general,” she said. “It felt important to me to voice my opinion that we should not lend that institutional validation to anti-democratic actors who I believe are involved in the Trump administration.”
Sibo Wang, another first year student at the Law School, said he signed on because he believes the University should play a role in standing up to government actors who abuse their power.
“I signed the petition because I believe that Harvard Law School can be a leader in ensuring that there is accountability for not only the institution itself, also for everyone who is affiliated with the institution,” Wang said.
The Law School, Leibowitz said, bears the responsibility to ensure that members of the Trump administration are held accountable after they have left the White House.
“To me, Harvard Law has a huge role to play in telling those people that they can’t so easily come back into polite society after they have used their legal training to really promulgate a terrible set of policies that have really harmed people,” Leibowitz said.
Kurt D. Walters, a third year student and petition signatory, said former President Donald Trump’s aquittal in his second impeachment trial substantiates a failure of government to hold political actors accountable for their misdeeds.
“A large number of people are desperate to just bury this all under the rug, sweep this under the rug, and try to pretend like the events of the past four years did not happen,” Walters said.
Walters also said he believes the Law School cannot successfully uphold its values without taking action toward people who contributed to the Trump administration's “anti-democratic nature.” He cited the Law School's mission to "educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society."
“Those of us who helped create this letter, and those of us who signed this letter feel that it would be impossible for Harvard to live up to its values while inviting in the architects and enablers of the abuses of the past four years into the Harvard community,” Walters said.
The petition garnered more than 200 signatures as of Tuesday night, and includes the support of La Alianza, a Latinx affinity group at the Law School.
“It’s a topic that has the ability to spread organically because it’s really important,” Leibowitz said.
Wang said that rather than supporting a political party, the petition aligned with values respected across the aisle.
“To be very, very clear, none of this is about partisanship,” Wang said. “It is about the values that we claim we espouse and uphold, regardless of party or ideology, and we need to be consistent and stick to that.”
—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.