Earlier this year, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law 3L Ted Vogt was appointed to the State House of Representatives, after the previous seatholder was promoted to the Senate. Vogt, who went to Yale for undergrad, wasn’t necessarily a typical law student — age 37, he was the district chairman for the Republican party. Still, it was an exciting final semester of law school. He told the Arizona Capital Times in March:
“We’re actually on spring break now,” Vogt said. “It’s not the traditional spring break, but talk about an exciting spring break!”
Vogt said he is determined to find a way to balance his newfound legislative responsibilities with the last few weeks of his law school studies, and has the blessing of the school’s administration to spend time at the Capitol in Phoenix and away from the school.
He’s been busy at the Capitol. Since he took office, the Arizona House has passed two controversial laws that have made national news: the “birther” bill and the “racial profiling/legal papers” bill. Vogt voted yes on both bills.
Vogt had been a popular guy on campus. Prior to his appointment to the House, Vogt was voted by the class to be one of its graduation speakers. But now some of his classmates (and friends) — who see the bills as “racist measures” — have chilled towards him and changed their minds about wanting him as a speaker next month. Vogt plans to speak despite opposition from fellow students, according to the Arizona Sun. A debate has broken out on the list-serv about Vogt and the bills, and a number of students are planning to protest during his speech. What do they have in mind?
A tipster tells us:
According to Facebook conversations, students are planning on protesting during graduation… holding big signs, turning around when Ted Vogt speaks, handing out flyers, demanding “a certified copy of his birth certificate before he will be allowed to speak,” and people are “ready to get rowdy! ” and disrupt the ceremony and speech.
Here are the emails that have gone around on the University of Arizona law student list-serv. It started out peacefully enough on Thursday:
Subject: Fwd: Peaceful Protest?
I hope you are entering your spring semester. I know that many of us are disturbed by the recent events of the Arizona State Legislature over the past week. Among many disturbing pieces of legislation (the immigration bill and concealed weapons bill), came “the birther” bill.
As some of you may already know, a fellow classmate among the many republicans, voted for this piece of legislation. I am the first to admit that I am a biased liberal and comprehend the partisan stands necessary on the other bills passed this week, but I believe that the intent behind the “birther bill” to be solely a racist measure.
I respect and am friends with Ted, as I am sure many of you are. I understand the pressures of “reelection” and serving your party, but I believe the line may have been crossed with the birther bill. We have a very unique opportunity at our graduation to influence a state representative and classmate in a very peaceful manner. It is not a personal character attack on Ted, but I think as law students we have an obligation to show our disappointment in a misguided bill.
Some of us were speaking after class and decided that we would write a letter to Ted and table next Monday and Tuesday to have fellow classmates sign it. At this time, we would give students an American Flag ribbon to wear on their gown at graduation.
We would like your support either individually or at the organizational level (LLSA, NALSA, ACLU, ILSA, BALSA, etc.). Any thoughts on this would be appreciated, comments, ideas. Otherwise, we will be tabling on Monday and Tuesday. I can send the copy of the letter to you all for feedback and comments.
I emailed Ted and let him know what I was organizing.
- RESPECTFUL DISSENT
The next respondent got a little rowdier:
Subject: Message regarding classmate’s vote on SB1070 and SB1024
Hi NLGers. The message below is from RESPECTFUL DISSENT (a fellow 3L) regarding some issues afoot. Basically, Ted Vogt, who is also a 3L, was recently appointed to the Arizona House. (There was an email a while back by Dean J-C; he has to win the seat in the election in the fall.) He was also voted by our class to be one of two class graduation speakers, prior to his appointment. He has voted Yes on SB 1024 and SB 1070 (known as the racial profiling/legal papers bill and the ‘birther’ bill). In fact, you’ll notice the vote was very close on the birther bill.
There are some varying points of view on a response to this situation. Please feel free to talk to RESPECTFUL DISSENT, me, ALONG FOR THE RIDE or ALONG FOR THE RIDE 2 if you are interested, as we are all upset about the idea of him representing our class and will be responding to this in some way. I wanted to forward this to all of you in case you are interested in signing the letter that RESPECTFUL DISSENT is organizing. She says she has 1Ls and 2Ls also signing the letter. As her message says, there will be tabling on Monday and Tuesday for the letter.
3Ls–we are also starting a petition to ask Ted to step down as a speaker. If you are interested in being involved with that, let me know. Thanks.
- FREE SPEECH TROUBLED
Not everyone wanted to jump on board the pro-immigration, anti-Vogt bandwagon. There were a number of responses in support of their political classmate:
I don’t think this is appropriate. I mean, Ted’s representation is one thing, and school is quite another. Ted has been an exemplary law student and classmate which is why he was voted by the majority of 3Ls to be our class speaker, aside from his politics.
We voted for him; he’s hilarious; he doesn’t use law school as a platform for his political opinion; and he’s been a great classmate. I definitely don’t agree with his politics or his most recent votes in the AZ house of reps, but that’s not why I voted him to be grad speaker in the first place. I have taken the time to discuss my concerns over his voting record and his politics outside of law school sponsored events, in a more appropriate forum. I would suggest others do the same.
- I <3 TED
FYI. Ted was not nominated class speaker because of his political positions. It was because he is a fun, well liked classmate and an exemplary law student. Graduation is an inappropriate forum to begin protesting his decisions as a Representative. Ted has not used law school as a platform for his political aspirations and we should not use it as a platform to attack his political opinions. Furthermore, this issue should not be raised with 1Ls & 2Ls. It is 3L graduation and concerns our classmate and nominated (by majority of our peers – most of which already knew his political leanings) speaker.
- I ALSO <3 TED
I very rarely speak up on political issues. However, I strongly agree with the two previous comments.
Even though this matter does not concern me as a 2L, I do not agree with the original email message.
First, if we as an organization wishes to do something to protest this bill, we can do so through other means. We should not personally punish the one person who, among many, happened to vote for this bill simply because we have easy access to him. I would consider that to be bullying.
Second, this school is made up of people from different political view points. It is what makes this school so interesting and challenging. Most do not isolate, but befriend, those whose political view points are different. We should not punish Ted simply because he happened to be a political figure.
Thirds, Ted’s vote is not a representation of this school’s political views. He was voted to be speaker because of his character and personal reputation among his peers, not his political standpoint. If anything else, him being the representative speaker will reflect well on this school because it shows that we are not a school who only supports liberals, but are respectful and tolerant of those with different views and values.
Although I do not have the voting power to vote Ted on or off the podium, if this situation happens in my year I will lend my support to my fellow classmate, regardless of whether or not he is a Republican.
- SCHOOL-SPIRITED 2L
At that point, the personal attacks began:
Perhaps if Ted had been more transparent about his views instead of going for cheap jokes all the time in class, you would not have voted for him. Would you still think he was charming if he had been advocating making all brown people carry official documents or face jail? That’s what they did in South Africa under apartheid… This stuff makes my skin crawl. I can’t separate out funny good time Ted from the man who voted for those two bills. I can’t sit by and be quiet while he speaks for my class. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
- I THINK TED IS EVIL
Lesson: Funny jokes work every time in school elections.
While some of you may not want to raise the issue with us 1Ls and 2Ls, you’re making it our business by hitting “reply to all” and including us in the conversation. A situation like this demonstrates aptly why people should have been careful about choosing an openly right-wing political operative in the first place and that maybe in general folks should be more careful about what criteria are used to choose a person to represent them. But alea iacta est, and really so goes the nation.
What does matter is that SB 1024 and sb 1070 represent all of the worst of current American society and frankly, by choosing to become a public figure and voting to support them, Ted Vogt has chosen to expose his character to the sort of public criticism being proposed. Questions about his character based on those votes are absolutely legitimate and should be asked. Given what those votes say about Vogt as a person, it’s no surprise a portion of the 3L class are uncomfortable with Vogt speaking for them. Vogt has brought any and all protest on himself and he now has a choice: he can be gracious to his peers and step down to in an attempt to defuse the controversy or he can suffer the public criticism of his peers by sticking to his guns and insisting on speaking. I think both choices are legitimate and are a matter for Vogt’s conscience alone. That said, I support those 3Ls who are uncomfortable with Vogt as the class speaker and wish to express that discomfort. Calls for them to sit down and shut up strike me as much more inappropriate than any public criticism of the public figure himself could ever be.
- ALEA IACTA EST GUY
Apparently, Vogt is a funny guy:
Listen…if you don’t like Ted then run against him or write a damn letter to the newspaper. To show how selfish and desperate you are is absolutely shocking. You would risk ruining everyones graduation to promote your own goals. SHAME ON YOU, grow up. Better yet, protest by not showing up, but how dare you threaten to ruin your classmates graduation.
Ted has his opinions but at the same time never tries to silence others with them. This is not a campaign speech for him, it is not a political forum, it is a graduation speech to commemorate your class. Ted also is one of the kindest people I know. His jokes in class are witty more than anything, and aside from them his comments are well thought out. We would all be lucky to have half his intelligence and only a smidge of his integrity. Once again, SHAME ON you. Finally, your delusions have gone too far.
- SHAME ON YOU
This is when the “unsubscribe” emails started. But the discussion starts to dig into some very interesting issues:
First of all, I want to apologize for SHAME ON YOU not being unsubscribed sooner (he definitely should have been as he has asked many times).
Second, I want to clarify that those of you who voted for Ted are saying that you KNEW he wanted to implement a racist system of segregation in this country, and you STILL voted for him? Worse, you are saying that HE is the victim here? Try talking to your brown classmates about how they feel about having to carry official documents all the time.
- AM I IN CLASSES WITH A BUNCH OF RACISTS?
And another personal perspective about the impact of these bills:
Hey NLG – I am not really an active member, but let me share my perspective on this. I just got married two weeks ago, to a great guy I’ve been with for almost 7 years. My husband is Mexican, he has a work visa and has worked legally in this country for the last 6.5 years. We are working on getting him a green card now that we are hitched. He has very brown skin, and while he speaks English exceptionally fluently, he has a pretty thick Mexican accent. When 1070 becomes law (I believe the governor is signing it at 10am today) my husband risks ARREST every time he leaves our house, if he forgets to carry his visa/green card with him at ALL times. If he forgets his papers, HE GOES TO JAIL, is charged with a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $500. This is my reality in the wake of Ted’s votes.
So, I am sorry, but I don’t care that Ted’s a funny guy, and frankly, after he expressed his support for torture as an interrogation tool in our criminal procedure class, I never found him all that funny. I definitely didn’t vote for him, but I would have never said a word about his commencement speech if he hadn’t just voted to force my husband and me to live in fear every time we leave the house without my husband’s visa. This is not just “politics.” This is my life, my husband’s life, and the lives of millions of legal immigrants in this country who may be impacted by Arizona’s decision to lead the country in racist, anti-immigrant and anti-constitutional laws designed specifically to harass Latinos out of the country.
So let me ask you, NLGers, defenders of liberal ideals and justice, when would be an appropriate time to say something? How long should I hold my tongue? How long should I voluntarily suspend my first amendment rights on this issue? Until YOU are comfortable? Sorry folks, I am graduating too, and I worked my ass off for this degree, just like everyone else. To have my school and my class represented by someone who voted to implement a blatantly racist, likely unconsitutional requirement that cops start racially profiling my husband and millions of others absolutely ruins MY graduation, and I for one, will not in good conscience sit idlely by. If you can, in good conscience, continue to tell me to sit down and shut up, then that’s fine, that’s your right. But I might ask exactly why you are even on this listserv in the first place.
- MRS. MEXICAN
And now the attacks widen and take on the entrenched racism in the bills:
This whole discussion is highlighting something very interesting, isn’t it? When we think of people who are capable of voting through irrational, racist legislation, we think of aggressive, illiterate rednecks who drive around with a Confederate flag in the back window of their pickup. In reality, they’re educated, successful, funny, friendly people, and there’s a danger that when faced with a personality like Ted’s, some people will just think “Oh hey, he’s a great guy, if HE voted it through, it must not be that bad…right?”
I wonder how many slave owners told great jokes at parties….
- SLAVE OWNERS PROBABLY TOLD GREAT JOKES
One person accidentally responded to the list-serv when she meant to respond to a friend:
how did you know I had had more than enough of this??
unbelievable – these are supposed to be mature adults!
I feel sorry for Ted – I totally don’t agree with his politics, but this is totally out of line
This was one of the most reasonable responses:
I think this is a helpful discussion to be having and may be the only time in law school that I have appreciated the reply all option to listserves. If our state legislators could have the same level of discussion, I think we’d be in an entirely different situation than where we find ourselves.
And this is exactly my point: we, as graduating law students, have the privilege of having spent the past three years thinking deeply about laws, rights, and their implications. We spend hours discussing public policy and the effects of laws on people’s lives. Having had this opportunity, we are in a better position than most to make a stand and take action against laws we do not agree with, and with reasoned arguments behind us.
I think the assumption that law school graduation is an apolitical event is misplaced; I, for one, went to law school precisely to make my political stands more effective. I feel that standing by and doing nothing while a person who, though funny and likable, makes reprehensible political votes would be acquiescence. And, to me, acquiescence is another way of saying that it’s ok, not only to ourselves but to our families and the public.
We do not seek to ruin anyone’s graduation day—but this includes our own.
- LIKING THE LIST-SERV FOR ONCE
There were a number of other responses, but we imagine there are many of you who have not made it even this far. When one student compared protesting Vogt to protesting Hitler or Sheriff Joe, the arguments began to wind down. Once you bring up Hitler, you effectively end the conversation.
Given that Vogt has said he “would in all likelihood keep his comments congratulatory and not turn the forum into a political event,” it seems unfair of his classmates to ask him not to speak. His fellow students certainly have the right to voice their opposition to his voting record in the House, but is the law school graduation ceremony really the right place to do it?
We invite you to continue the conversation in the comments, but please leave Hitler and the Nazis out of it.
Vogt’s votes upset fellow UA law-school students [Arizona Daily Star]
Yale-educated Ted Vogt says he’s receptive to Arizona Dems’ ideas [Arizona Capitol Times]
Leave Hitler Out of It [Slate]
Immigrants and Nazis, Communists and Cardinals [Volokh Conspiracy]
Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration [New York Times]
Growing Split in Arizona Over Immigration [New York Times]