Meet Nick Wallace

Congrats grads! Our gift to you is an interview with Nick Wallace. Nick is the former Stanford law student who was threatened with having his diploma withheld because the snowflakes in his campus' Federalist Society were triggered.

Why he did it, what exactly happened, and what's next

0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Will the candidates from the school of law please stand, if you're able.


0:00:10.1 Speaker 2: Welcome to a special episode of 5-4. Michael and I, will be talking to Nick Wallace, he just graduated from Stanford Law, but you may know him as the guy who nearly had his diploma withheld, because of a satirical email that he sent to a law school Listserv, that email lampooned to The Federalist Society's connections to the January 6th insurrection attempts, which are more than just ideological. John Eastman, the Chair of the Federal society's federalism and separation of powers Practice group, was a hugely vocal proponent of overturning the election, and in fact, spoke at the rally right before the attack on the capital, yet the Federalist Society refused to condemn him. So our buddy Nick sent around an email making fun of them a bit, and the Federalist Society kids at Stanford law, did not handle it well. We talked to Nick the day after he graduated from Stanford Law, congrats Nick. We asked about why he did it, what exactly happened, and what's next?

0:01:17.4 Nick Wallace: I've gotta take the bar this summer, and then I'm going to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

0:01:22.1 Michael: Very cool.

0:01:23.6 Speaker 2: Alright, you just graduated from Stanford Law, roll it back a few months. It's I think late January, you're a third year law student, you create a satirical flyer for a fake event, titled: The Stanford Federalist Society Presents: The Originalist case for Inciting Insurrection. The date is set as January 6th, the bottom of the flyer says riot information will be emailed the morning of the event.


0:01:51.9 Speaker 2: Senator Josh Hawley and Texas AG Ken Paxton are named as guests. And you sent this out on what I believe is some sort of Listserv, is that right?

0:02:01.6 Nick Wallace: Yeah, I sent it out to a student... A law student Listserv called Law Talk, which is kind of the Listserv for political commentary and that kind of thing.

0:02:10.1 Michael: How many people are on that Listserv?

0:02:12.0 Nick Wallace: You know, I don't know, I think it's most of the student body, and then I believe some alumni are still on it, so it's at least a few hundred.

0:02:19.4 Speaker 2: So, can you walk us through what... Through your eyes, happens from there.

0:02:26.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah. So I send sent out the email, I think it's a Monday morning, and right away, start getting a lot of responses, get some just personal responses, where people are saying, "Hey, that's pretty funny." And then there's kind of a long conversation in the reply all email thread, with some people are chiming in, saying, "Hey, this is in poor taste, like the insurrection isn't funny, don't make a joke out of it." Other people chime in to say, "You've missed the point of the satire here, it's actually not making light of the insurrection." So that was kind of the day I sent the email, there was a lot of back and forth.

0:03:00.2 Nick Wallace: About a month later, I organized an event, an actual event not a satirical event, on campus, with a Slate journalist, Mark Joseph Stern, to talk about the insurrection and The Federalist Society's connection to the insurrection. And that was, as far as I knew, that was the end of my Federalist Society story, until about three weeks ago, the end of May, my last day of classes, I received a notice from the University, telling me that I was under investigation for violating something called the Fundamental Standard, which I had never heard of before, I thought they were just saying the honor code.

0:03:40.2 Speaker 2: Well, it's self-explanatory.


0:03:42.2 Nick Wallace: Yeah. I thought they were accusing me of violating the honor code and I'm thinking, "Did I accidentally cheat on a test without realizing it? What happened here?"

0:03:51.4 Michael: Yeah.

0:03:52.2 Nick Wallace: So as it turns out, some members of the Federalist Society, the president and a few other high-ranking officers, filed a complaint against me, and it started actually back in March, a few weeks after that Mark Joseph Stern event. They approached this office that handles honor code violations and that kind of thing. And there was some kind of back and forth, they approached this office, they said, "If we file a complaint against this guy, what happens?" So that was in late March, they sat on it for two months, the Federalist Society guys did. And then on May 22nd, which was right at the start of our last week of classes, they reached out to the office again, and said, "We wanna move forward with this complaint, we want you to investigate this guy for sending this email." They didn't tell them that it was a satirical email, what they said in their letter was, "This guy was impersonating The Federalist Society, and he defamed Josh Hawley and Ken Paxton and The Federalist Society, and he harmed all of our reputations." So they kind of dropped that in my lap.


0:05:02.8 Michael: And then I filled my diaper and... [chuckle]

0:05:06.7 Speaker 2: I love that, they're bringing in the defamation of public figures into this.

0:05:11.6 Michael: Yeah.

0:05:12.3 Speaker 2: I feel like they should know that the standard is a little bit higher, you're gonna require some actual malice in that case.

0:05:18.6 Michael: You would think that, but the Federal Society, they're not your brightest students.

0:05:22.4 Speaker 2: I feel like they know a lot about defamation these days. I feel like most of conservatism these days is just claiming defamation when someone talks shit.

0:05:32.3 Michael: Which maybe says shows that they don't know a lot about a defamation.


0:05:35.7 Speaker 2: Fair enough. So this office, this is... From what I could gather from your public comments on this, the office that they're dealing with, is like not Stanford Law itself, it's Stanford more broadly. Is that right?

0:05:48.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah, it's a university-wide office, Stanford Law, like doesn't do their own investigations, they're just... The university takes control of all of it. So it's a university-wide office, the vast majority of what they do is plagiarism and cheating on tests and that kind of thing. And then they do a few of these fundamental standard violations, which is like... At Stanford, is like: Be good people, do good things, don't be mean to each other, and that kind of thing.

0:06:13.4 Speaker 2: Right.

0:06:13.9 Michael: The way you told the story, I'm wondering, is your sense that they purposefully sat on this until the last week, maybe to extract maximum stress from you, right? Like at a very high stress time, or did do you think that's just like a happenstance?

0:06:31.2 Nick Wallace: Yeah, that's definitely how it feels, that's definitely how it looks, especially just the fact that they first reached out in March and then they sat on it for two months, it's hard to think of another explanation.

0:06:41.5 Michael: Yeah.

0:06:42.4 Nick Wallace: The only other thing I might think that they were doing is they just didn't want to have to actually participate in an investigation themselves, usually the investigations takes a few months and they didn't wanna have to sit through a hearing or whatever. So they thought if they dropped it on me on the last day they could, then they could graduate and get out of there, and I'd be stuck dealing with it.

0:07:02.6 Michael: Yeah, yeah.

0:07:02.7 Speaker 2: So eventually the investigation was dropped and your diploma was released, so you were able to graduate on time. But what are you hearing from Stanford now? What are they communicating to you?

0:07:13.6 Nick Wallace: So I actually had a long call with Dean Martinez, the dean of the law school, a few days ago. And the law school was super upset about this, like they know it's not a good look for clear First Amendment protected speech to lead to this kind of investigation. The faculty was furious about it, they put out a statement saying that they needed to see some changes. So there's a lot of action at the law school, and a few different faculty and the Dean are working on fixing some things with the university. The university itself has been... I'm a little bit more quiet actually, they haven't said anything to me directly. But the president of the university, a few days ago, in an address to the faculty senate, kind of half apologized and said they mishandled it and said they're gonna fix some things.

0:08:02.5 Nick Wallace: And then the office itself that investigated me and acted the whole time like it was a perfectly normal investigation and there's nothing weird about it, they haven't said anything, they put out a public statement when they ended the investigation, then they said, "We just handled the normal process here, and everything went according to plan. And then we figured out that this was satire, so we went through the investigation." So I haven't heard anything from them.

0:08:26.3 Speaker 2: And who runs that office? Is that run by Stanford faculty, or is it just like staffers that they hire?

0:08:32.6 Nick Wallace: Yeah, it's just... It's staffers, a lot of them are actually attorneys, so the people who originally looked at this complaint and decided they should start an investigation and put a hold on my degree, they were actually attorneys.

0:08:45.1 Speaker 2: That's a sick job. That's a job I didn't know I wanted until right now. Just some whiny student is like, "I'm mad at this guy." And you're like, "I'll handle it, you know, just give us a few weeks to process."

0:08:58.1 Michael: Yeah.

0:09:00.5 Speaker 2: So how common are these types of shenanigans on the Listserv, is this a place where this sort of... There's a lot of jokes flying around?

0:09:07.9 Nick Wallace: Yeah, I mean usually there's a lot of kinda political back and forth, and usually it's... Usually it's not like the jokey kinda back and forth, it's more like, "Hey, you suck." Or, "Hey, your ideas suck." So it's a little bit more straightforward. There is some... I think I've seen some kind of more comedic stuff on there before, but definitely this kind of just flat out satire, this might have been a first.

0:09:34.0 Speaker 2: I do wanna ask like what was your experience with these particular students who reported you prior to all of this? Did you know them at all? Did you know them well?

0:09:42.9 Nick Wallace: This is one of the really interesting things, because The Federalist Society is all about debate and conversation and dialogue and difficult ideas, they love that.

0:09:52.9 Speaker 2: Sure.

0:09:54.5 Michael: Yeah.

0:09:55.5 Nick Wallace: I have never in my life had a conversation with any of these three.

0:09:58.5 Michael: By these three, you mean the president of the Federalist Society and like two senior officers, is that right?

0:10:03.9 Nick Wallace: Yeah, and it's the board from last year, so there's some new people in there now, but yeah.

0:10:08.7 Speaker 2: Got it.

0:10:10.6 Nick Wallace: And Stanford Law School is a pretty small place, I've met most of the people in my class, but these three, I've never had a conversation with them. They never... After I sent the email, none of them reached out to say, "Hey, you hurt my feelings with this, this was a defamatory or whatever." So none of them has ever talked to me about it.

0:10:28.4 Speaker 2: Well, you know they probably... They weren't at all the cool parties, you know. Is this the first time that you had any sort of run in with the Federalist Society generally?

0:10:38.8 Nick Wallace: Yeah, I think so. I went to some of their events during one year back when events were in person, and I might have raised my hand and asked a tough question or something at some point, but I never really had any kind of confrontation with them before this.

0:10:53.8 Speaker 2: Right. And what's their presence like on campus, you've said that these guys have pretty prestigious appellate clerkships lined up. And obviously, to some extent, the Federalist Society is less of a student Org and more of a pipeline that moves conservatives from campus into positions of power. And so I'm curious what it looks like from the campus level, I'm curious how visible that pipeline is at a school like Stanford, is it something you can clearly see, or does it just look like a run of the mill sort of active student Org from the outside?

0:11:28.7 Nick Wallace: It's kind of an open secret, the pipeline is something everyone's aware of. And I think for a lot of students who are kind of moderate centrist, they think about whether they wanna jump into Fed Soc, even if they don't agree with it, just for the clerkships, and there are a lot of kinda conversations about whether people should do that.

0:11:49.1 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:11:50.1 Nick Wallace: And then on campus, part of what led to my email, is they hold more events than basically any other student group, and they also have the best food, because they're getting money from their national organization. So they're really visible on campus because they hold all these events. They also get the most prestigious speakers, they get the most judges, and that kind of thing. So you got the food, you got the interesting speakers, and it's every week.

0:12:14.9 Speaker 2: Well yeah, they got Josh Hawley. That's impressive. You know.


0:12:19.5 Nick Wallace: Yeah, sitting US senator and an Attorney General, can't beat that.

0:12:24.3 Speaker 2: So is there like... I'm wondering, it's been a bit since we've been in law school, I'm wondering, obviously, there's nothing on the left that sort of matches their influence, but do you see any counter-weights to The Federalist Society emerging at all?

0:12:38.0 Nick Wallace: Not really. There's the American Constitution Society, which is...

0:12:43.5 Michael: Sure.

0:12:44.1 Nick Wallace: Yeah, which is supposed to be kind of the counter weight, but even people in ACS don't think that they're a counterweight. And they also... They hold a lot of events together, which is a little strange, but yeah, I don't really see any equivalent kind of especially with the judicial pipeline thing, I just I don't see anything like that happening on the left.

0:13:06.1 Michael: So I do wanna give you a moment. I know it was satire. And maybe satire is usually best left unexplained, but since it's visual satire, if there was a serious point you were trying to make, I think it might be worth telling our listeners what you wanted to say.

0:13:23.4 Nick Wallace: Yeah, I think there are a few things that I had in mind. We'd had all of these conversations in the weeks between the insurrection and when I sent the email about the Federalist Society and what they were doing on our campus. I think a lot of folks were upset by the fact that they had all these connections to the insurrection and then they didn't disavow it or say anything about it afterwards.

0:13:44.6 Michael: Right.

0:13:45.1 Nick Wallace: So a lot of folks are thinking like, "If an organization that clearly at least its officers supported violent insurrection can remain on our campus and keep having events like where do we draw the line?" And there were calls for the Federalist Society to actually be removed from our campus to be de-platformed. And then our dean came out with a pretty strong email saying, "We don't de-platform people on this campus. That's censorship. We support free speech. We're not gonna do something like that." So I felt like I wanted to make the point that like an organization that has at least tacitly supported insurrection, that's a whole different thing than you're kind of run-of-the mill free speech where you're just debating interesting ideas or complicated ideas.

0:14:35.3 Nick Wallace: You know it's... Insurrection is kind of the most direct threat to the rule of law that there is, and that's kind of what the law school is all about and what they had been preaching to us for two years. So I think that's kind of where I was coming from. And then also just the Federalist Society of like, their whole strategy is they use law schools kind of for the branding and for the networking, and the debates are beside the point for them. They hold these debates just to have an excuse to be on campus and I wanted to draw attention to how ridiculous that strategy really is, when you get right down to it, and when they are out there supporting insurrection.

0:15:19.3 Speaker 2: Yeah, the sort of irony I guess is that, as even though it wasn't your intent, nothing could have done a better job than this flyer and their reaction to it, to sort of expose that their commitment to free speech is aesthetic, that there's a deep irony to the law school coming out in defense of their free speech, and then they immediately file a complaint...

0:15:40.9 Michael: Yeah.

0:15:41.0 Nick Wallace: Oh yeah.

0:15:42.8 Speaker 2: About this fucking flyer, which obviously they are not completely stupid, they realize it was just a joke, but they don't give a shit, right. The whole point is just to lash out at their enemies and to make it painful to make fun of them, right.

0:15:54.3 Nick Wallace: Right.

0:15:54.5 Michael: Right. Hopefully, the next time someone has this idea, they think twice or whatever.

0:16:00.3 Speaker 2: Right. I think unfortunately, this has back fired and if anything, it feels to me like if Stanford is a normal place, the Listserv will now involve a lot more satirical flyers.

0:16:12.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah. It's already started actually. One of the guys who is behind the... One of the Fed Soc guys sent an email out to a different Listserv actually, but to another campus Listserv saying he had some furniture for sale, and someone responded within two minutes with a... All the email was this, the originalist case for selling my furniture.


0:16:38.3 Michael: What I really appreciated about your flyer that I wanna add is that I think there is a tendency in some circles to sort of view the insurrection as a bunch of, for lack of a better word, like Hicks, either like dumb QAnon types or like malicious or whatever, but it really was like a full cross-section of the Republican Party including religious conservatives, including the business side, and I think it's important and the names you mentioned, the image of Josh Hawley with his fist up, I think it's good to really draw that out and highlight it whenever we can.

0:17:18.3 Speaker 2: Yeah and to draw the connection between the Federalist Society and those more like violent fringe...

0:17:23.8 Michael: Absolutely.

0:17:25.3 Speaker 2: If we can actually call them fringe elements of the conservative movement when the Federalist Society's primary purpose in national politics, if you put aside the pipeline for conservatives is to just provide academic loss for a lot of fringe conservatism.

0:17:44.5 Michael: Yeah.

0:17:45.0 Nick Wallace: Totally. When I sent the email, I was already kind of infuriated that there wasn't gonna be... It looked like there wasn't gonna be accountability for the really powerful people in organizations who had pushed the insurrection, it was just gonna be the dolts who had walked on to the capital and filmed themselves pushing over statues and that kind of thing. And now we're six months on and it's pretty obvious that none of the people who are really behind it are gonna face any accountability.

0:18:11.0 Michael: Right.

0:18:11.0 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:18:12.8 Michael: It is... It's infuriating.

0:18:13.8 Speaker 2: Another unfortunate part of this is if you were on the right, this would have gotten you a great job this whole ordeal, if you just flipped all of the actors here. They tried to cancel you, and you fought back and rallied public support and defeated them, and if you were on the right, this would make you... You would have been on Fox News.

0:18:35.3 Michael: Right. A cause celeb.

0:18:37.3 Speaker 2: And instead you're on the sixth most popular legal podcast in America, maybe fifth, I don't know where we are, but it's to the sad state of the left, man, we need these pipelines between anyone who gets cancelled and national media spotlight.

0:18:52.5 Michael: This interview needs to be run by Chris Hayes I think like on Prime Time TV.

0:19:00.5 Speaker 2: Yeah. That's right.

0:19:00.8 Nick Wallace: Yeah, MSNBC, if they're you're listening.

0:19:03.3 Speaker 2: They are. They are. Begrudgingly.

0:19:06.5 Michael: So it sounds like you take these issues pretty seriously and you're pretty thoughtful about it, but I think it would be easy for someone to say, "Yeah, but what's the point of a flyer on a little student Listserv?" That's not practice, that's not advancing your ideological goals and so I'm wondering, was it just for laughs or was there something behind it?

0:19:30.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah, one of the things that I've kind of picked up during the course of three years in law school is just how kind of fragile our entire rule of law system really is, it's all just words and people and people believing in the words that they're saying, and when you start messing with the foundation of that, when you start messing with our democratic processes and our institutions, I think it's a really, really quick decline to that system falling apart because that trust goes away, so obviously, it was terrifying for everyone, and it was especially terrifying for the people in DC, but just the way that that kind of threatens the trust in our system and threatened the rule of law.

0:20:19.0 Nick Wallace: I just felt really frustrated and kind of helpless watching that and then seeing like we talked about, the lack of accountability and a satirical poster isn't necessarily the most powerful way to counteract that, but it was kind of what I had available to me, and it seemed to me... We had right here on campus an organization that was directly connected to the insurrection, so I felt like in some way countering their power and limiting their power it was something I should try to do.

0:20:53.1 Michael: I think that's right. I think a lot of the Federal Society's power and prestige comes from the refusal of the academic left to say things like that, to call them out, to say they're bad faith actors...

0:21:05.0 Speaker 2: And they still haven't put out a statement, right?

0:21:07.9 Nick Wallace: Yeah, nothing.

0:21:09.5 Michael: Yeah.

0:21:09.5 Speaker 2: Their official position is like, "Go fuck yourselves, we... "

0:21:11.5 Michael: Right.

0:21:13.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah.

0:21:13.8 Speaker 2: "Don't give a shit.

0:21:13.9 Nick Wallace: Right.

0:21:14.0 Speaker 2: "Don't give a shit."

0:21:15.3 Michael: Yeah.

0:21:15.7 Speaker 2: Alright, I do have one last question. Have you ever listened to 5-4?

0:21:21.2 Nick Wallace: I have this week. Michael, are you on another podcast?

0:21:25.3 Michael: I am. I am. I'm on ALAB.

0:21:28.5 Nick Wallace: Yeah. I listen to ALAB. I don't listen to a lot of podcasts, but I listen to ALAB, the Neal Katyal episode.

0:21:37.3 Michael: Okay.

0:21:37.5 Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah.

0:21:37.5 Nick Wallace: That was a good one.

0:21:39.3 Speaker 2: Now all this says to me is that we're not penetrating our market as effectively as we should be. If there are people publicly making fun of the Federal Society who aren't listening to us consistently...

0:21:48.0 Michael: That's a...

0:21:49.2 Speaker 2: Huge missed opportunity for us.

0:21:52.9 Michael: Right.

0:21:53.0 Nick Wallace: Yeah. Can I say one more thing about the Federalist Society?

0:21:55.7 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:21:55.9 Michael: Absolutely.

0:21:56.7 Nick Wallace: I think, like you were saying about them trading on the reputations of law professors, I think really the most important thing for them is that they have the respect of the legal community and they have kind of this veneer of respectability, so just the ability to laugh at them, and the fact that when my flyer kinda started getting a lot more attention, there were thousands of people laughing at them, I actually think that's really powerful if we can just kind of make them look silly.

0:22:27.4 Michael: Yeah, no, I agree. It should be a joke.

0:22:29.8 Speaker 2: Yeah, and I think especially when they are so reliant on recruitment within law schools and are drawing from a relatively small pool of conservatives, right, the more you can make organizations at each law school look like a bunch of dumb assholes, the better, right? And since we don't have the money to create structural opposition to the Federalist Society, it does feel like that's the best route, at least in the short term, to create the general sense that they are assholes, that they're stupid and that they're not to be taken seriously in any intellectual discourse.

0:23:10.3 Michael: I do wanna commend you on goating them into creating what turned out to be a semi-national story.

0:23:16.5 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:23:16.9 Nick Wallace: Yeah, I hope that they see a lot more satirical flyers on email Listservs in the years to come.

0:23:23.6 Michael: Yeah, well, you know they are like trolls themselves, right?

0:23:26.8 Speaker 2: Right.

0:23:27.5 Michael: But I don't think they can take it.

0:23:29.1 Speaker 2: No.

0:23:29.3 Nick Wallace: They're intellectual trolls.

0:23:30.5 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:23:31.4 Michael: Yeah, there was the Chicago whatever, I don't wanna get into it, but they had their Federal's Pride shit, they were making fun of Pride Month a few years back, and they like poking liberals so...

0:23:42.9 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:23:44.2 Nick Wallace: Apparently at Stanford a few years ago, they tried to get kind of registered as an affinity group, as you know, one of the student organizations that represents minorities and disadvantaged groups on campus, they tried to register themselves as one of those.

0:23:58.2 Speaker 2: Yeah.

0:23:58.3 Michael: Perfect.

0:24:00.3 Speaker 2: Alright, Nick, thanks for coming on, man. We appreciate your time.

0:24:04.0 Michael: It's a lot of fun.

0:24:04.1 Speaker 2: And congratulations on making your way through this. What a hellish last couple of weeks at law school, but now you're sitting on one of the fancy degrees dude and you can do whatever you want.

0:24:17.6 Michael: Yeah.

0:24:18.3 Speaker 2: You could probably leverage this into a clerkship with Kavanaugh if you really want to.

0:24:23.1 Nick Wallace: That's been my dream for a long time, so I'm excited about that, yeah.

0:24:28.1 Speaker 2: Good luck on the bar dude.

0:24:29.6 Michael: Yeah, good luck.

0:24:31.0 Nick Wallace: Thanks guys.

0:24:34.0 Michael: Five to four is presented by Prolog Projects. This episode was produced by Rachel Ward with editorial support from Leon Neyfakh and Andrew Parsons. Our artwork is by Teddy Blanks, at CHIPS NY, and our theme song is by Spatial Relations.