Court takes aim at political correctness in ‘McAdams’ ruling
It sometimes seems judges spend more time creating convoluted legal arguments to justify preconceived opinions than they do considering the facts of a case and the applicable law. We believe that’s how the Wisconsin Supreme Court reached its decision ordering Marquette University to reinstate political science associate professor John McAdams, whose contract was terminated several years ago.
The ruling was couched as a breach-of-contract issue exacerbated by the university’s disciplinary process. But it was motivated by antagonism toward liberals’ campus dominance.
McAdams is nationally known for lobbing firebombs at “liberal academia” on his blog “Marquette Warrior,” as well as in right-wing media appearances. The case McAdams v. Marquette, however, took him into the stratosphere as a conservative cause celebre, because it painted him as a victim of liberal, politically correct bullies.
Even before this case, McAdams was a conservative media darling — a regular on talk radio and Fox News. That’s thanks in part to Marquette’s 2010 hiring and abrupt firing of lesbian scholar Jodi O’Brien as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She was let go before she even started the job, and she won a substantial award for breach of contract.
The Marquette community widely attributed her termination to the ruckus McAdams raised about her unsuitability for a Catholic institution. He particularly objected to her lesbian writings. In other words, McAdams trampled on someone else’s academic freedom — at a great cost to the university’s reputation.
Apparently McAdams believes that his academic freedom begins where other people’s ends, and other people’s contracts, unlike his own, are disposable.
University officials indulged McAdams’ freedom for 40 years, looking the other way as he churned out some 3,000 vitriolic blog posts attacking progressives, LGBTQ rights, women and other culture-war targets.
But in 2014, Marquette officials said McAdams went too far. He was suspended without pay for “doxing” a student teacher — i.e., terrorizing her online. The episode began when a student complained to McAdams that a student teacher shut down his attempt to inject religious objections to same-sex marriage in an unrelated classroom discussion. The teacher scolded him for bringing up a point of view hurtful to others and suggested he drop the class.
We agree that the teacher was wrong. The freedom to explore and discuss divergent and unpopular ideas is at the very heart of higher education. But McAdams’ reaction endangered a student colleague, and that’s what led to his dismissal.
Furious over the incident, McAdams embarked on one of his most vigorous campaigns against the tyranny of progressive secular thinking. In his efforts to rile up conservatives against the student teacher, he shared her name and contact information. She was overwhelmed with hate mail and malicious phone calls, some of them laced with violent threats.
Ultimately, she quit the university, fearing for her safety. A seven-member panel of McAdams’ faculty peers and a circuit judge agreed with the university’s decision. So McAdams appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is dominated by justices who share his views.
The court’s conservative majority dismissed McAdams’ behavior and focused on employment issues. But conservatives know that was a smokescreen, and they’re hailing the ruling as a milestone for them in the culture wars.
Justice Rebecca Bradley issued a separate ruling that reflected the conservative justices’ real considerations. A look at her personal history suggests she should have recused herself.
During Bradley’s judicial campaign, she was dogged by extremist right-wing opinions that she’d written as a student at Marquette. Her vitriol included attacks on gays and people with AIDS. She likened abortion to the Holocaust.
As a candidate some 20 years later, Bradley was contrite about those writings. But did she forget that Marquette didn’t stop her from publishing her invective in the student newspaper, just as no one had stopped McAdams? The university deferred to academic freedom in both cases.
With the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in mind, it will be fascinating to see how the U.S. Supreme Court, with another Trump appointee, justifies its inevitable decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Perhaps the religiously driven justices on the right will follow their colleagues in Wisconsin and choose to issue an opinion that is just that — their opinion — rather than a legal decision.