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UPDATED: April 13, 2018 at 2:46 p.m.
Harvard Law School announced Wednesday that Arizona Senator Jeffry L. Flake will be its 2018 Class Day Speaker.
Since President Donald Trump took office, the 55-year-old Republican has been one of his most outspoken critics on the right, even going so far as comparing the president’s attacks on the media to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Last summer, Flake also published a book— “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle”—criticizing the president.
Flake wrote in a statement provided by a spokesperson that he was “honored” the Law School invited him to speak.
“I’m very honored to have been asked to speak. As un-senatorial as it may seem, I’ll try to be as brief and concise as possible,” he wrote.
Flake announced in Oct. 2017 that he would not seek re-election to the Senate, raising speculation that he would challenge Trump in 2020. Flake spoke at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast in March at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College, a key stop for presidential candidates. Asked whether he would run for president, Flake did not rule out the possibility.
“It has not been in my plans to run for president, but I have not ruled it out,” Flake said at the New Hampshire event.
Flake, a graduate of Brigham Young University, served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming a senator for one term. Flake is currently the chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Flake has also served as the executive director of the conservative and libertarian think tank Goldwater Institute in Arizona as well as the Foundation for Democracy in Namibia.
As a senator, Flake has been at the forefront of efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Representing the border state of Arizona, Flake has also pushed for immigration reform and recently introduced a bill to confirm the legal status of DACA recipients.
Flake will address graduating Law students on May 23, the day before Commencement.
Class Day speakers are selected by representatives of the graduating class, but not all students approved of the choice.
Pete D. Davis ’12, a third-year Law student, voiced his disapproval of Flake in two Harvard Law Record opinion pieces published Wednesday and Thursday.
Davis, who has been a vocal critic of what he calls a lack of support for public interest at the Law School, wrote in the first piece that he believes the political Right has “work[ed] the ref” in an effort to push liberal institutions to move toward the center by courting conservatives. Davis argued that this strategy motivated the school to select of Flake.
“An understanding of this right-wing power tactic helps make sense of the selection of Jeff Flake as Harvard Law School’s 2018 Class Day Speaker. The selection of such a figure...is a consequence of another successful effort by the right to work the ref,” Davis wrote.
Davis criticized Flake’s voting record—highlighting his support of the Iraq War and his opposition to gay marriage, among other stances.
Davis’s second letter specifically criticizes Flake’s support of closing the Legal Services Corporation, citing Flake’s long-term opposition to funding the program, which provides funding for civil legal aid to the less fortunate.
Third-year Law student Cameron Pritchett, one of the class marshals who selected Flake, said the marshals chose Flake as part of an effort to bring a range of perspectives to campus. He said he thinks Law students can learn from the Republican senator.
"We are looking forward to Senator Flake delivering that message to an audience that may not have necessarily traditionally agreed with many of his points of view,” Pritchett said.
Flake could not be reached for comment on Davis’s criticisms.
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