Conservative writer Ben Shapiro speaks for 120 seconds at a legislative hearing to discuss balancing free speech and public safety. Rich Pedroncelli AP
Conservative writer Ben Shapiro speaks for 120 seconds at a legislative hearing to discuss balancing free speech and public safety. Rich Pedroncelli AP

Editorials

California Democrats are all for free speech – just not conservative Ben Shapiro’s

By the Editorial Board

October 03, 2017 06:00 PM

UPDATED October 04, 2017 07:59 AM

The First Amendment can be so messy, as Senate Democrats surely must see.

Convening the first of multiple hearings into the rise of white supremacy in California, the Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats like all of Sacramento, invited an august panel of speakers.

UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was the ideal speaker to describe the boundaries of the First Amendment. Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, was the perfect person to discuss neo-Nazis in California and elsewhere.

But conservative writer and speaker Ben Shapiro, suggested by Sen. John Moorlach, vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Republican from Orange County, would have had something to offer, too. The alt-right has vilified Shapiro, who quit the conservative online site Breitbart last year, and now dares to question Breitbart boss Steve Bannon, provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and President Donald Trump.

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Rather than invite Shapiro to join others at the table, Judiciary Committee Chair Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, cluelessly granted Shapiro 120 seconds during the public comment period at the end of the hearing, roughly three hours after it began.

Jackson told The Sacramento Bee’s Taryn Luna that she knew little about Shapiro and didn’t think he’d be someone “whose testimony today would be particularly helpful” at the hearing titled “Combating Hate While Protecting the Constitution.”

Shapiro can be divisive, particularly on issues of gender identity and Black Lives Matter. But while some people see his views as offensive, he has lived through the issue. UC Berkeley spent $600,000 to ensure he could safely deliver a speech last month, an absurd sum for someone who is not a head of state. Shapiro left with the ideal photo-op: tweeting to his 829,000 followers a picture of himself thanking Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood.

Perhaps Moorlach’s invitation to Shapiro was a stunt. If it was, so what? Politicians routinely pull stunts to illustrate points. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats unwittingly helped make the Republicans’ point. By not listening politely for 10 minutes, they gave Shapiro 120 seconds of fame and then some. Another hearing on the worthy topic is set for Oct. 18. Let’s hope Democrats seek differing perspectives, offensive though they might be.