Learn more about the student disruption of the Yale Law School event

For my previous article on the incident, see here; three follow-ups:

[1.] Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (Berkeley Law) – one of the nation’s foremost liberal constitutional law scholars – and Chancellor Howard Gillman (UC Irvine) published a Washington Post op-ed, “Free Speech Does Not Mean hecklers must shut down debate campus”; an extract:

Freedom of speech does not include the right to shout at others so they cannot be heard…. It is deeply disturbing that some students claim the right to determine what messages are acceptable on campus and attempt to deprive other members of the community of their right to invite or listen to speakers of their choice.

If such a “rowdy veto” is allowed, the only speech that will take place will be one that no one cares enough to shout about. If the Hastings protesters believe they have the right to drown out speakers invited by the Federalist Society, then they must accept that nothing prevents members of the Federalist Society from drowning out speakers they support. Before too long, no one would be able to organize worthwhile events.

[2.] David Lat had a follow-up, “Free Speech at Yale Law School: One Progressive’s Perspective / You Don’t Have to Be Conservative to Be Troubled by Events at YLS.” An excerpt, quoting a progressive student with whom Lat corresponded [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 student culture here that goes beyond student or administrator attitudes toward free speech and beyond liberal political differences. / curators. The students here seem unwilling to have their beliefs and actions questioned. Many of my peers see the expectation of rigor and precision in classroom discussions and in community deliberations as somehow distracting from the normative urgency of their ends (which I much share).

I heard students making fun of the staunchly liberal professors Dan Kahan and [former YLS dean] Tony Kronman as conservative or bigoted for clearly articulating challenges to student intuitions for educational purposes in class discussions. In some cases, the students’ comments became absurd in their almost deliberate absence of the essentials. For example, several classmates accused Kahan of hating women, even as he struggled in class to demonstrate where the law embeds misogynistic norms.

Even as a progressive, I felt uncomfortable sharing even friendly amendments to some student viewpoints in class. I have plenty of folkloric explanations for why the intellectual climate is like this (students are increasingly returning to law school after spending time away from harsh academic environments, teaching at YLS doesn’t was never exactly renowned for its excellence, etc.), but it’s still frustrating to see the truth being treated as irrelevant here.

[3.] The two Yale lecturers, Kristen Wagoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association, “lawyers on both sides of the ideological spectrum”, published an op-ed in the Daily Mail, “The evil of the anti-free speech that plagues America has infected our future lawyers – that should scare us all.” An excerpt:

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

But instead of meeting students who wanted to question us about the case {Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski – a United States Supreme Court case, according to Kristen, which resulted in an 8-1 decision hailed by both left and right}, we met with a bewildered crowd of activists who tried to silence us.

Of the 150 students present, around 120 chanted, pounded walls and shouted obscenities, disrupting classes, exams and nearby meetings.

Cases of harassment and physical threats have been reported. The police had to escort us out of the building in a patrol car for our safety.

Some of the students freely hurled slurs, including the word ‘b—h’, which particularly shocked us as litigants….

[W]e…understand as litigators – and law students should recognize this – that one cannot effectively defend his position if he refuses to hear the other side of the argument….

The refusal to engage with someone who has a different point of view is an intellectual disease that has obviously infected public debate, but it is shocking that this disease has taken hold of aspiring lawyers as well.

Nancy I. Romero