The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

David Lat on the Latest Yale Law School Disruption of a Speaker

"As lawyers, we have to put aside our differences and talk to opposing counsel. If you can't talk to your opponents, you can't be an effective advocate."


A superb analysis, at his Original Jurisdiction newsletter. Read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

Here's a report from Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon:

More than 100 students at Yale Law School attempted to shout down a bipartisan panel on civil liberties, intimidating attendees and causing so much chaos that police were eventually called to escort panelists out of the building.

The March 10 panel, which was hosted by the Yale Federalist Society, featured Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association (AHA) and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty. Both groups had taken the same side in a 2021 Supreme Court case involving legal remedies for First Amendment violations. The purpose of the panel, a member of the Federalist Society said, was to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues.

For additional coverage, see … Eda Aker and Philip Mousavizadeh's article in the Yale Daily News and Robby Soave's post over at Reason.

If you read the Free Beacon's coverage, you get the sense of an out-of-control mob; if you read the YDN's coverage, you get the sense of quiet, non-disruptive protesters, threatened by the presence of police. Based on what I've heard from folks who were there, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The protesters were disruptive at the start of the event, both inside the classroom and after they repaired to the hallway. But unlike the protesters at Hastings, they did calm down (eventually), and they did not succeed in "canceling" the Yale event, which moved forward to completion.

Credit for this should go to Professor Kate Stith, moderator of the Yale FedSoc event, who had the unenviable task of dealing with this fraught situation. As you can see in video footage (via the Free Beacon), after the protesters started getting noisy inside the classroom, claiming that this was their form of "free speech," she reminded them of the school's actual free-speech policies (and told them that they needed to "grow up," for which she was jeered). She informed the protesters that they could either (1) stay in the classroom, remain quiet during the speakers' presentations, and ask questions during the Q&A, or (2) they could leave the classroom and gather in the hallway, as long as they did not disrupt the event….

[H]ere's my big takeaway from the latest YLS controversy: the free-speech problem in our law schools isn't just about administrators, and they can't solve the problem by themselves. The problem goes much deeper and is rooted in the mindset of students ….

The two panelists at the YLS event, Monica Miller and Kristen Waggoner, both expressed disappointment over how the Yale law students comported themselves. As Miller of the AHA—no fan of the ADF, which she noted during the panel has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center—told the Free Beacon, "As lawyers, we have to put aside our differences and talk to opposing counsel. If you can't talk to your opponents, you can't be an effective advocate."

Exactly—and I'm not sure how much I can add. As a gay man who is in a same-sex marriage and raising a son with my husband, I strongly disagree with ADF's views on same-sex marriage and parenting. But I strongly defend the right of its leaders to speak and to participate in public events, and I think the treatment that Kristen Waggoner received at YLS was disrespectful and wrong….

One final thought: I can't believe I'm having to write a defense of a free-speech regime in which people listen respectfully to the other side, even when they find the other side's views abhorrent, as opposed to a free-speech regime where "freedom" belongs to whoever can yell the loudest. You would have expected—and hoped—that law students, as future lawyers, would understand the value of the former and the problems with the latter.

When these law students become lawyers, and many of them have to go to court or a negotiating table, they will have to listen to the other side—whether they like it or not, and no matter how "offensive," "triggering," or "violent" they find the views of the other side to be. Shouting down opposing counsel, then claiming that you're just engaging in your own form of "free speech" or "zealous advocacy," will not fly in the world beyond Yale Law School….