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Cornyn Grills Garland on 'Chilling Effect' of School Board Memo on 'Parents' Constitutional Rights'

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland on whether he considered the potential “chilling effect” his memorandum regarding threats against teachers could have on parents seeking to voice their opinions about children’s education.

During a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Cornyn asked, “Did you consider the chilling effect this would have on parents’ constitutional rights?”

“To say that the Justice Department is against violence and threats of violence…” Garland began.

However, the Texas senator interjected, “Did you consider the chilling effect your memorandum might have on parents exercising their constitutional rights? I think you can answer that yes or no.”

Garland responded by explaining that his goal was to “assure people that we recognize the right of spirited debate.”

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“Mr. Attorney General, you’re a very intelligent, accomplished lawyer, judge. You can answer the question,” Cornyn said as he interjected again. He asked, “Did you consider the chilling effect that this sort of threat of federal prosecution would have on parents’ exercise of their constitutional rights to be involved in their children’s education?”

The attorney general insisted, “I don’t believe it’s reasonable to read this memorandum as chilling anyone’s rights. It’s about threats of violence, and it expressly recognizes a constitutional right to make arguments about your children’s education.”

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) interrupted the exchange to note the time limit.

“Let the record reflect the Attorney General refused to answer the question,” Cornyn said.

Leahy shot back, “And let the record reflect that the senator from Texas was allowed to go over his allotted time.”

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As The Washington Post reported, earlier this month Garland “ordered the FBI to work with local leaders nationwide to help address what he called a ‘disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence’ against educators and school board members over highly politicized issues such as mask mandates and interpretations of critical race theory.”

While Garland has defended the memo saying it focused on threats of violence, Republicans argued it would lead the parents being treated like “domestic terrorists.”

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In the memorandum, Garland wrote, “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety,” he added.

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