Ask Me Anything — Berkeley Law dean answers questions on Reddit

Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, an expert on constitutional law, took questions on free speech, hate speech, search and seizure, Citizens United and his school’s hallway water fountain this week when he sat down for a free-wheeling Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

Erwin Chemerinsky

Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

The topic of free speech — nowhere hotter these days than on the UC Berkeley campus — started the conversation and attracted hundreds of comments, most of them thoughtful, some invoking everything from Ayn Rand to the movie Blazing Saddles.

In one exchange, Joenz writes: The smallest minority is the individual, and that’s the minority who needs their rights protected the most.

Robot-8 responds: “Damn, this just blew my mind. Thanks.”

Here are a few of the AMA’s highlights:

Question from Polemicize:
What can students like myself do when even professors and faculty at universities are calling for legal limits on free speech? For instance, at the Berkeley panel discussion on free speech at which you spoke in September, Professor john powell openly advocated for restricting speech that may be psychologically harmful, to the resounding endorsement of both students and faculty in the audience.

If the onus to firmly challenge this viewpoint falls on administrators, professors, and deans like yourself, do you feel that your support for free speech on campus is sufficient without naming and condemning exactly those people who want to restrict it, like Professor powell?

Dean Chemerinsky: I think it is so important to separate a discussion of what the law currently is from a conversation about what the law should be. Hateful speech IS protected by the First Amendment. But we certainly can and should debate whether this is desirable. john powell and I agree as to the current law, but disagree on what the law should be.

(Well over 100 comments followed in the thread.)

Q from orangejulius:
What are your thoughts on the weird discrepancy in search and seizure rules where police can’t compel a person to open a phone with their password versus compelling them to open it with their fingerprint or other biometrics? Is this something that will change?

Dean Chemerinsky: I think that this is an area where the law has not caught up with the technology. In Riley, the Supreme Court held that police cannot search a cell phone without a warrant (unless there are emergency circumstances). I think this must mean that police cannot force people to give a password or a fingerprint to open the cell phone. I believe the law will catch up to technology here.

Q from davec79:
Would you be flattered or horrified if a practicing attorney named his dog Erwin?

Dean Chemerinsky: Embarrassed.

Q from high-side on the Citizens United ruling

Dean Chemerinsky: I do not believe that corporations should have the same rights as individuals. For example, in areas of conscience — like religious freedom — corporations cannot have a conscience. Their owners, of course, can; but the law draws a clear distinction between a corporation and its owners.

Q from orangejulius on emoluments received by presidents from foreign governments

Dean Chemerinsky: … I think until recently most people thought emoluments were skin creams. Emoluments means benefits. President Trump is receiving benefits from foreign governments and from the United States (other than his salary) literally every day. This is unconstitutional. It is why I am co-counsel in a lawsuit against him for violating the emoluments clause.

When his hour was up, Chemerinsky left the AMA – but the comments and questions kept rolling in. Read more and join the conversation on Reddit.