The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

More on the Students' Disruption of the Yale Law School Event


For my earlier post on the incident, see here; three follow-ups:

[1.] Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (Berkeley Law)—one of the most prominent liberal constitutional law scholars in the country—and Chancellor Howard Gillman (UC Irvine) had a Washington Post op-ed, "Free speech doesn't mean hecklers get to shut down campus debate"; an excerpt:

Freedom of speech does not include a right to shout down others so they cannot be heard…. It is profoundly disturbing that some students assert a right to determine what messages are acceptable on a campus and try to deprive others within the community of their right to invite or listen to speakers of their choice.

If such a "heckler's veto" is allowed, the only speech that occurs will be that which no one cares enough about to shout down. If the Hastings protesters believe that they are entitled to drown out speakers invited by the Federalist Society, then they must accept that nothing prevents Federalist Society members from drowning out speakers that they support. Before too long, no one would be able to hold any events worth attending.

[2.] David Lat had a follow-up, "Free Speech At Yale Law School: One Progressive's Perspective / You don't need to be conservative to be troubled by goings-on at YLS." An excerpt, quoting a progressive student with whom Lat was corresponding [UPDATE: My editing originally edited out the fact that this was a quote from a progressive student; my apologies for the error]:

In general, what happened at this protest seems symptomatic of a feature of the student culture here that goes beyond student or administrator attitudes toward freedom of speech and beyond liberal/conservative political differences. Students here seem unwilling to have their beliefs and actions challenged. Many of my peers see the expectation of rigor and precision in classroom discussions and in community deliberation alike as somehow distracting from the normative urgency of their ends (many of which I share).

I've heard students deride decidedly liberal professors Dan Kahan and [former YLS dean] Tony Kronman as conservative or bigoted for clearly articulating challenges to student intuitions for pedagogical purposes in classroom discussions. In some cases, student commentary has become absurd in its near-purposeful missing of the point. For example, several classmates accused Kahan of hating women, even as he took pains in the classroom to demonstrate where the law incorporates misogynistic norms.

Even as a progressive, I've felt uncomfortable sharing even friendly amendments to certain student views in the classroom. I have a lot of folk explanations for why the intellectual climate is like this (students are increasingly coming back to law school after spending time away from challenging academic environments, the teaching at YLS has never been exactly renowned for its excellence, etc.), but it's nevertheless frustrating to see truth be treated as unimportant here.

[3.] The two speakers at Yale, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association, "lawyers on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum," had an op-ed at the Daily Mail, "The anti-free speech sickness plaguing America has infected our future lawyers—that should frighten us all." An excerpt:

We came to the Yale event with the goal of demonstrating that religious and political opponents can do great things when they respectfully work to find common ground.

But instead of encountering students who wanted to question us about the case {Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski—a U.S. Supreme Court case Kristen argued that resulted in an 8-1 ruling hailed by both the left and the right}, we encountered a crowd of activists who, perplexingly, tried to silence us.

Out of the 150 students there, about 120 chanted, pounded the walls, and yelled obscenities, which disturbed nearby classes, exams, and meetings.

Harassment and physical threats were reported. The police had to escort us out of the building into a patrol car for our safety.

Some students freely hurled insults including the word 'b---h,' which was particularly jarring to us as female litigators….

[W]e … understand as litigators – and law students should recognize that – that one cannot effectively argue their position if they refuse to hear the other side of the argument….

The refusal to engage with someone that holds a different point of view is an intellectual sickness that has obviously infected public debate, but to see that this illness has also taken hold of aspiring lawyers is shocking.