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For Mukasey, It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

Faculty and students are outraged over their law school's selection of Michael Mukasey as commencement speaker. The former U.S. attorney general's refusal to condemn waterboarding demonstrates that he does not reflect the school's values, they assert.

Sound familiar? Yes, it's déjà vu all over again for Mukasey, who just can't seem to step foot on a law school campus without someone complaining. Last year, it was Boston College Law School that was the scene of the controversy. Dean John Garvey's decision to invite Mukasey as commencement speaker drew dissent from students, faculty and alumni. In his appearance at the BC Law campus last May, Mukasey acknowledged the controversy but nonetheless defended the former government lawyers whose legal memoranda condoned waterboarding.

Well, another year, another commencement controversy. This time, the scene of the protest is UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill. No sooner did the school announce its selection of Mukasey as this year's commencement speaker than students and faculty objected. "I am concerned that his refusal to investigate and prosecute the use of waterboarding was a failure to execute responsibilities of attorney general and resulted in the United States' violation of domestic and international law," law professor Tamar Birckhead told The Daily Tar Heel.

Students and faculty are circulating a petition objecting to Mukasey's appearance on campus. It says in part: "We believe a commencement speaker should reflect the collective values of the UNC Law community ... By refusing to condemn waterboarding as torture, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has demonstrated that he does not represent those values." 3L Travis Packer told the News & Observer that he sees the school's invitation as an indication of agreement with Mukasey's beliefs. "I feel like we've endorsed this person. But I would never give him my endorsement."

Unlike BC, where the dean decided to invite Mukasey, at UNC it was the Student Bar Association that made the pick. Its president, Matt Modell, told The Daily Tar Heel that it stands by its decision. "We did not know of the Boston College controversy at the time we invited Mr. Mukasey," he said. "But he was the nation’s top law enforcement officer, so who would be more relevant to speak at a law school graduation?"

Back at BC, some might beg to differ. As the BC student blog Eagleionline put it, "Oh my dear legal Heel, you have no idea what you're about to live through." The upside is, at least Mukasey will have something new to talk about.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 3, 2009 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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