US law dean battles call for ousting over Trump ‘advice’

Named as founding law dean at High Point University, Mark Martin denies refusing congressional investigators but also keeps quiet about advice to defeated president on day of Capitol building assault

一月 6, 2023
Source: iStock

The founding law school dean at High Point University, Mark Martin, is fighting back against complaints that he should resign over his alleged backing of Donald Trump’s bid to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election.

Mr Martin has faced months of pressure over allegations that he told Mr Trump – on the evening of the January 2021 attack – that the administration had the legal authority to block electoral defeat.

That pressure on the former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice amplified over the Christmas holiday after the congressional committee investigating the 6 January violence issued a final report that listed him among a group of key Trump advisers from that day who mostly refused to cooperate with the probe.

Mr Martin told Times Higher Education that his father’s experience in the US air force had led him to dedicate his life to “upholding our constitution and supporting the rule of law”. He went on to say: “I did not receive a personal request to speak with anyone associated with the J6 committee.”

High Point University is a private institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church located in central North Carolina. The university, which has about 5,000 students, announced in June 2022 its selection of Mr Martin – a former dean and professor of law at another Christian institution, Regent University in Virginia – as the first dean of High Point’s new law school.

The appointment prompted outside complaints, much of it centred on a New York Times report published shortly after the attack on the Capitol that described Mr Martin that day as directly offering Mr Trump legal justifications for fighting the election outcome – including endorsing a widely debunked theory that the vice-president, then Mike Pence, could have used his ceremonial role in certifying the election results to overturn the outcome.

Carolina Forward, a progressive policy thinktank, leased a highway billboard near the High Point campus to publicise its call for the university to rescind Mr Martin’s appointment as law school dean. “He is no longer fit to practise law, let alone guide the course of legal education based on a constitution for which he shows pure contempt,” the group argued.

The case comes amid years of escalating complaints from right-wing activists that US higher education has become forbiddingly hostile to the relatively small number of conservative voices in its midst.

One prominent example involves another Trump adviser involved in the 6 January attack on the Capitol: John Eastman, a professor and former dean of law at Chapman University – another Christian-affiliated private institution – resigned his post after only a few days of protest at the California campus over his appearance alongside Mr Trump at the Washington rally where Mr Trump urged the armed crowd to head towards the Capitol building. Mr Eastman directly called on Mr Pence to delay that day’s vote in Congress to formally certify the presidential election results.

But Mr Martin, who was chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 2014 to 2019, has been less clear about what advice he gave Mr Trump when they talked on the day of the attack on the Capitol. While Mr Martin denied to THE that he had received “a personal request” to speak with the investigative committee, he did not address questions about what he told Mr Trump.

That is a matter that needs clarification before Mr Martin should be allowed to teach law students, said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a former Obama administration adviser who has closely tracked the congressional investigation of the 6 January events.

If Mr Martin did, as reported, suggest to Mr Trump that Mr Pence had the authority to overturn the US presidential election results, that “is so far outside the pale that it seriously calls into question his fitness to hold a law licence” and should disqualify him from “teaching the next generations of lawyers”, Mr Eisen told THE.

Mr Martin, in his statement to THE, said he hoped “that reasonable people will take a close look at my lengthy public service career and not rush to judgement”. He said he did not attend the events of 6 January, was not involved in their planning, and never endorsed them. “I never have, nor ever will, support a betrayal or subversion of the constitution, or an insurrection of any kind,” he said.

Among its recommendations, Carolina Forward urged the federally recognised accreditor of High Point University, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to deny its endorsement of the law school until Mr Martin is removed from it.

The association’s president, Belle Wheelan, said that was outside the accreditor’s authority. “He is protected by the First Amendment, whether folks like it or not,” Dr Wheelan said. “So we have no dog in the fight.”



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