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‘It’s about democracy’: Law school deans weigh in on attacks on election results

Jim Morrill
·4 min read

As many as half of America’s law school deans — including several in North Carolina — were expected to sign a letter saying continued legal attacks on this month’s election amount to what one called “frivolous attacks on our democracy.”

The letter was not released as expected Tuesday after President Donald Trump agreed to let his administration work on the transition with President-elect Joe Biden.

The letter came after a parade of unsuccessful lawsuits from Trump’s legal team challenging the results of the Nov. 3 election. On Monday Michigan certified its election results, dismissing Trump’s complaints about the fairness of the vote and allowing Democrat Joe Biden to claim the state’s 16 electoral votes.

“The thrust of it is that the election was conducted completely fairly and these are baseless and frivolous attacks on our democracy,” Rich Leonard, dean of Campbell University’s School of Law, told the Observer on Monday.

Last Thursday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and North Carolina native Sidney Powell argued for 90 minutes that Trump had won the election in “a landslide,” only to have the results marred by fraud. Powell said the election was rigged through the “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China.”

On Sunday, Giuliani announced that Powell was no longer on the president’s legal team.

The letter, which is expected to go public Tuesday, could be signed by leaders of half the country’s 200 law schools. One dean said it isn’t aimed at the president or his party.

“It’s not a partisan issue, it’s about democracy,” Wake Forest Law Shool Dean Jane Aiken told the Observer. “You can file whatever lawsuits you want to file and people do it all the time. But they’re expected to have evidence.”

Continuing to make baseless claims, she said, “frightens people, and that’s a terrible thing.”

“It’s very hard to get to the truth when people are afraid.”

Luke Bierman, who heads the law school at Elon University, said he and his fellow deans “stand firmly for the rule of law.”

“It’s important that law school deans support the rule of law,” he said. “The facts don’t seem to support some if not all of the arguments being made (by Trump’s lawyers.) And if the facts don’t support them, the courts are acting in accordance with the facts and the law.”

Dean Martin Brinkley of the University of North Carolina law school could not be reached. But he expects to sign the letter, according to spokeswoman Amy Barefoot Graedon.

‘Thousands’ involved in scheme

Powell is a 1978 graduate of UNC law school. Born in Durham, she grew up in Raleigh before going to on to UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC law. She went on to become an assistant U.S. attorney in Texas and the youngest federal prosecutor in the country. She later practiced law in Asheville, where she started a non-profit to help victims of domestic violence.

In an Saturday interview with Newsmax, Powell claimed that “probably thousands” of people were involved in what she described as a conspiracy to steal the election. On Monday, she retweeted a post that said “By herself alone, Sidney is telling us that our American election of 2020 was stolen by the exact methods of Hugo Chavez’s take over of Venezuela. If you want an Communist Amerika, allow this travesty of an election.”

Even Fox News host and Trump ally Tucker Carlson has challenged Powell’s claims.

“What Powell was describing would amount to the single greatest crime in American history,” Carlson told viewers last Thursday. “Millions of votes stolen in a day. Democracy destroyed. … We invited Sidney Powell on the show. We would have given her the whole hour. We would have given her the entire week actually . . . But she never sent us any evidence, despite requests. ...“

After her dismissal by Giuliani, Powell sent a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

“I will represent #WeThePeople and seek the Truth,” she said. “I intend to expose all the fraud and let the chips fall where they may. We will not allow the foundations of this great Republic to be destroyed by abject fraud.”

‘Show me your evidence”

Aiken, the Wake Forest law dean, said courts are the place for claims — and evidence.

“I don’t think any of us would say ‘Don’t file lawsuits’,” she said. “I think what we would say is, ‘Don’t do it if you don’t have the evidence.”

Campbell’s Leonard, a former federal bankruptcy judge, agreed.

“I’m an old trial judge,” he said. “Show me your evidence, which of yet no one’s been able to produce a scintilla of.”

Deborah Gerhardt, a professor at UNC law school, said it’s important for the deans to go on record.

“Law schools are committed to the rule of law,” she said. “It’s one thing to make up facts on Twitter. But if you go into a court of law and you state claims for which you have no evidence or make arguments that are unsupported … you can lose your license to practice.”