WASHINGTON –Today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland about President Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) issuing a memorandum suggesting federal law enforcement may need to assist policing local school board meetings and what effect that would have on the ability of concerned parents to exercise their constitutional right to free speech. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below, and video can be found here.
SEN. CORNYN: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, you’ve acknowledged that parents have a right, a constitutional right to be heard on the education of their children in public schools. Can you imagine the sort of intimidation, the sort of bullying impact that a memorandum from the Department of Justice would have and how that would chill the willingness of parents to exercise their rights under threat of federal prosecution? Did you consider the chilling impact your memorandum would have on parents exercising their constitutional rights?”
GARLAND: “The only thing this memorandum is about is violence and threats of violence and it opens with a statement—”
SEN. CORNYN: “Did you consider the chilling effect your memorandum might have on parents exercising their constitutional rights? I think you can answer that. Yes or no?”
GARLAND: “What I considered, what I wanted the memorandum to assure people that we recognized the rights of spirited debate and—”
SEN. CORNYN: “Mr. Attorney General, you’re a very intelligent and accomplished lawyer and judge. You can answer the question. Did you consider the chilling effect that this sort of threat of federal prosecution would have on parents’ exercise of their constitutional rights to be involved in their children’s education?”
GARLAND: “I don’t believe it’s reasonable to read this memorandum as chilling anyone’s rights. It’s about threats of violence and it expressly recognizes the constitutional right to make arguments about your children’s education.”
SEN. CORNYN: “Let the record reflect the Attorney General refused to answer the question.”
Earlier this month, Sen. Cornyn, along with his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter demanding the DOJ not interfere with local school board meetings or threaten the use of federal law enforcement to deter parents’ free speech. In addition to Sen. Cornyn, the letter was also signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Full text of the letter can be found HERE.
Last month, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden asking for help from federal law enforcement, referencing the PATRIOT Act, a statute that helps the federal government fight international terrorism. NSBA highlighted situations involving angry parents often frustrated by COVID-19 mask mandates for children and the possibility of incorporating critical race theory into the academic curriculum. Angry parents are not necessarily threatening parents and these discussions are clearly protected under the First Amendment.