Judge Danny J. Boggs, '68, Talks Protests and the Right to Assemble

Judge Danny J. Boggs, ’68, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, spoke at the Law School about similarities between the student protestors who took over the university administration building in 1969 and the demonstrators behind Occupy Wall Street and its affiliated movements today.

Boggs was hosted March 26 by the Federalist Society, a student group of conservatives and libertarians. About 70 students came to his lunchtime speech, titled “Occupiers: From UChicago 1969 to Wall Street 2012.”

“There certainly is a feeling of nostalgia coming back here,” he said, after an introduction from Dean Michael Schill.

Boggs remembers the student protests of 1969 well, as he was a recent graduate with a Bigelow Teaching Fellowship. That year, on January 30, 400 students took over the university administration building, protesting the school’s decision not to reappoint a sociology professor, Marlene Dixon. Activists felt Dixon was being punished for her liberal views and the fact that she was a woman. University President Edward H. Levi, ’35, decided not to call the police, and staff were simply moved to other locations. Dixon was offered a one-year reappointment, which she declined, and the students left after about two weeks.

The disciplinary committee that decided the various punishments for those students met in Room II of the Law School, Boggs said. Ultimately, nearly 100 students were suspended or expelled.

He drew comparisons between that protest and those of Occupy Wall Street activists in New York and across the country. Both movements had little formal leadership, changed their tactics day-to-day, and authorities were confused in how to respond.

Boggs took the students through a sampling of case law dealing with the right of assembly and protesters. He spoke of how the law must generally treat demonstrators the same, regardless of content – from Mother Teresa to Nazis. And he explained how the government is entitled to place reasonable time, manner, and place restrictions on public property demonstrations. For example, in Clark v. Community for Creative Nonviolence (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government’s right to keep people from sleeping in tents on the Mall or in a nearby park.

When it comes to the Occupy protestors, “the law’s basically against them,” Boggs said after the speech.

Denny Ng, ’12, who is an officer in the Federalist Society, said Boggs was “one of our best speakers all year.” He was especially impressed that the judge paid close attention to students’ questions.

“I like that he directly engaged the questioners and the content of what they were saying.”

Todd Itami, ’13, Ng’s fellow board member, agreed. It’s a privilege to get in-person exposure to judges like Boggs, and other notable people who come through the Law School on a regular basis, he said.

“Hearing the way they think about issues and analyze these things is extremely valuable,” he said. “After Law School, there’s not as much chance to rub shoulders with these guys.”

Itami also liked hearing colorful stories that happened at the Law School long before he was even born.

“It’s good to hear about the school back in the day,” he said. “That’s always fun.”