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Conservative lawyer John Eastman speaks at online event despite backlash

Calls to cancel the ASU Federalist Society event from students and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law dean were ignored by Eastman and the group


"Students were not allowed to ask their own questions, with them being sent through the host or deleted in the Zoom chat." Photo illustration published on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

Conservative lawyer John Eastman spoke at an online student event on Monday hosted by the ASU Federalist Society, despite calls from students and the dean of Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law urging the event be canceled.

Dean Douglas Sylvester condemned Eastman’s involvement with the Jan 6. Trump rally prior to the Capitol insurrection, acknowledged the University’s inability to cancel the event and asked Eastman to reconsider attending.

“I urge Mr. Eastman to do the right thing and give our students the opportunity to reschedule the event,” the statement released by the dean Sunday night said.

On CNN over the weekend, Eastman denied Trump's rally had any connection to the insurrection at the Capitol saying "show me any evidence you have of people being part of the rally being part of the incursion."

Associate professor Ilan Wurman was scheduled to be the moderator of the event until Sunday afternoon, when he tweeted he would pull out of the event, writing that he believed there would be a lack of "productive exchange."

The ASU Federalist Society and Eastman still proceeded with the event as planned, tweeting an open Zoom link for attendees.

The event was presented in a webinar style, with the chat disabled and only hosts able to see questions posed in the Q&A. ASU Federalist Society President Michelle Gaynor, a moderator for the event, filtered through questions, asking them in place of attendees, leaving no opportunity for participants to speak or ask questions to Eastman directly. 

During the event, Gaynor said there were hundreds of people on the call, likely a result of the attention it gained on social media.

The ASU Federalist Society did not respond to requests for comment.

Hosts deleted several questions about Eastman’s involvement in the Trump rally prior to the Capitol insurrection, sticking to questions strictly within the event’s topic of federal powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rocky Mckay, a first-year law student, was disappointed his questions weren’t being acknowledged and were deleted by the moderator.

“I just kept copying the same questions over and over into the chat and eventually they gave up on deleting them and just ignored them,” he said. “It seems to conflict with what they present themselves as, which is an organization dedicated to freedom of speech and open discourse.” 

Other students were confused as to why Eastman was considered as a speaker for this topic, considering Wurman is currently assisting in cases related to COVID-19 restrictions, according to The Spirits Business, whereas Eastman is not.

“I don't even see the logic behind the Federalist Society bringing in Eastman to give this presentation. Professor Wurman is the one who is litigating these issues here in Arizona right now,” said Nicole Kazan, graduate student majoring in legal studies. “Eastman spoke about the non-delegation doctrine, which, again, Professor Wurman would have been the go-to on this topic."

Fallon Cochlin, a first-year law student, wondered if the ASU Federalist Society used Eastman’s name to garner attention for their organization.

“I think that they do this for publicity more than they do this for actual discussion,” she said.

Mckay agreed, pointing out the purpose of the event versus what took place.

“If you go to look at the flyer that they advertised, they said 'debate and discuss,' but there was no discussion at all,” he explained. 

Overall, students were frustrated the event wasn’t canceled or rescheduled by either the ASU Federalist Society or Eastman himself.

Cochlin, along with other students, said she would be open to more discussions on government's COVID-19 regulations — but not with Eastman.

“The inaction will continue to tell people that this sort of disinformation, this bad faith platforming is okay," Cochlin said. 

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Reagan PriestManaging Editor

Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.

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