Univ. of Arizona Law School: Students Engage in Grassroots Efforts to Protest SB 1070

Ted Vogt
This is AZ-LD30 House Representative Ted Vogt. He supports torture, racial profiling, and the "birther" movement. Also, his friends think he's "hilarious" and "witty".

Following Governor Jan Brewer’s signing of SB 1070 last week, electroman quipped on his Facebook “it’s time for civil disobedience”. True, he was (jokingly) talking about engaging in high-speed car chases if a cop pulls me over and asks for my passport.

One blogger agrees (although not about the car chases part), listing civil disobedience as one of five actions you can take to protest Arizona’s passage of patently racist state law criminalizing the act of being an undocumented immigrant. Examples include:

Take a hint from the Capitol Nine who chained themselves to Capitol building doors. Leave your licenses at home. Walk out of schools and walk into local Congressional offices of politicians who have not cosponsored the DREAM Act and refuse to stand up for immigration reform. Conducts sit-ins, hunger strikes and flash mobs. Offer to get yourself detained wearing t-shirts and carrying signs that say “Do I look like an ‘illegal immigrant’ to you?” or “Being Brown is Not a Crime.”

While I like food a little too much to conduct a hunger strike, acts of civil disobedience can certainly help send the message that the people are unhappy with SB 1070.

A friend of mine is graduating from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law next month. He emailed me this morning to tell me about a major controversy going down in the halls of the law school here in sunny Tucson.

Apparently, last month, the law class of 2010 elected to have a member of the graduating class, Ted Vogt, speak at their graduation ceremony. Vogt, a 37-year-old third-year law student who has clerked for both Senator John Kyl and former Vice President Dick Cheney, was appointed to the Arizona State House of Representatives (as a representative for Arizona’s Legislative District 30) in March when  the seat’s previous holder, Frank Antenori, left it vacant for a position in the State Senate. Here’s Vogt talking about his own “awesomeness” (note the air-quotes) at the Pima County Supervisors’ meeting moments before he obtained enough votes to be appointed to the seat:

As a State House Representative,Vogt voted “yes” on both SB 1070 and Arizona’s recent “birther” bill, both of which have made national headlines for being… well, ignorant and racist pieces of legislative frivolousness.

At this point, we should note the irony of a soon-to-be matriculating student of law voting in favour of two pieces of legislation that are virtually guaranteed to be struck down for being unconstitutional.

Now, members of the law school’s 2010 graduating class are seeking methods to protest Vogt’s “yes” votes at the graduation ceremony. Some students are planning to hold signs, wear ribbons, or turn their backs on Vogt while he speaks. My friend has written a letter to the law school’s dean, asking to be peaceably excused from the graduation ceremony during Vogt’s speech, and to be allowed to return when Vogt finishes. Explaining their motivations, one of Vogt’s classmates wrote this on the law students’ listserv:

I just got married two weeks ago, to a great guy I’ve been with for almost 7 years. My husband is Mexican, he has a work visa and has worked legally in this country for the last 6.5 years. We are working on getting him a green card now that we are hitched. He has very brown skin, and while he speaks English exceptionally fluently, he has a pretty thick Mexican accent. When 1070 becomes law (I believe the governor is signing it at 10am today) my husband risks ARREST every time he leaves our house, if he forgets to carry his visa/green card with him at ALL times. If he forgets his papers, HE GOES TO JAIL, is charged with a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $500. This is my reality in the wake of Ted’s votes.

So, I am sorry, but I don’t care that Ted’s a funny guy, and frankly, after he expressed his support for torture as an interrogation tool in our criminal procedure class, I never found him all that funny. I definitely didn’t vote for him, but I would have never said a word about his commencement speech if he hadn’t just voted to force my husband and me to live in fear every time we leave the house without Sergio’s visa. This is not just “politics.” This is my life, my husband’s life, and the lives of millions of legal immigrants in this country who may be impacted by Arizona’s decision to lead the country in racist, anti-immigrant and anti-constitutional laws designed specifically to harass Latinos out of the country.

So let me ask you, NLGers, defenders of liberal ideals and justice, when would be an appropriate time to say something? How long should I hold my tongue? How long should I voluntarily suspend my first amendment rights on this issue? Until YOU are comfortable? Sorry folks, I am graduating too, and I worked my ass off for this degree, just like everyone else. To have my school and my class represented by someone who voted to implement a blatantly racist, likely unconsitutional requirement that cops start racially profiling my husband and millions of others absolutely ruins MY graduation, and I for one, will not in good conscience sit idlely by.

I think this student’s email emphasizes the key point: this is a graduation ceremony for the entire class of law students. Regardless of Vogt’s personality, his humour, or even his personal politics — having him speak at graduation without a measured response from dissenting students explicitly condones his recent votes in the State House. Students of law, in particular, have a moral obligation to speak up if they think Vogt’s actions have damaged the rule of law in the state of Arizona.

But that’s not to stop Vogt’s supporters from defending him as “hilarious” and an “exemplary law student”. My friend writes to me that he, and other protesters of Vogt’s speech, are being characterized as “disgusting”, “childish”, and “attention-seeking” for organizing acts of civil and peaceable disobedience.

It all just goes to show you: Republicans are all about First Amendment rights and free speech… as long as you happen to agree with their conservative view. But, heaven forbid you choose to exercise your free speech rights to protest right-wing ideology — than, all of a sudden, you’re being “inappropriate” and immature. 

Personally, I am in full support of law students who want to peaceablyspeak out against Vogt during graduation this year. Heck, some law students are getting a mariachi band to play at their post-grad party; maybe they could get the band to play at graduation — during Vogt’s speech. If I am invited to my friend’s graduation this year, you can bet that I will be among members of the audience wearing ribbons and turning my back on Vogt.

Meanwhile, I should point out that Ted Vogt faces significant competition in the Republican primary when it comes to defending his LD30 seat in the House. Blog for Arizona gives us a wrap-up of others who have filed in opposition of Vogt for the two seats opening up this year:

Several Republican candidates have already filed to run for these house seats in LD 30, and will all compete in the August 24 primary:

–incumbent House Rep. David Gowan
–Kurt Knurr, a systems engineer for a Defense Contractor
–Parralee Schneider, one of the nominees listed above
–Doug Sposito, one of the nominees listed above, former candidate for this house seat in 2004 and 2008.
–Ted Vogt, appointed today to this house seat

Candidate Brian Abbott also recently filed to run for this seat, and is a partner in a telecommunications consulting & contracting firm. According to him he is a Republican, though no party affiliation is listed on the state campaign finance website.

Democrat Andrea Dalessandro, (a retired tax accountant and instructor), who also was a candidate for LD 30 state house in 2008, is the lone Democrat in this field so far. See: www.andreaforaz.net.

I should probably point out that I actually live in LD 30 here in Arizona, so Vogt’s currently my representative. What an awesome reason to support Andrea Dalessandro’s campaign.

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