Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 11, 2022

Over 1,400 Political, Legal, And Academic Leaders Urge Yale Law School To Protect Free Speech

Philadelphia Statement on Civil Discourse and the Strengthening of Liberal Democracy (Letter to Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken) (Apr. 7, 2022):

Yale Law Logo (2020)What happened at Yale Law School on March 10, 2022 was disgraceful. But it creates an opportunity for you to send a clear message to the country about the importance of free speech and civil discourse. We ask that you take the following actions:

  1. Commit to your own students and others that Yale Law School administrators will use their best efforts to protect and cultivate a culture of free speech on campus.
  2. Commit to ensuring that speakers with diverse views are welcome at Yale.
  3. Condemn the behavior of students who violated other people’s rights on March 10 and take appropriate disciplinary actions in keeping with Yale’s free speech policies.
  4. Retract and/or issue corrections to Yale Law School’s initial statement concerning the events of March 10. 

David Lat, Prominent Politicians Condemn The 'Vitriolic Mob' At Yale Law School:

I read the letter. I found myself in general agreement with its analysis. I concurred in the requests to Dean Gerken at the end, including the call for her to discipline the protesters—not surprising, since I called last month for such action in my own open letter to Dean Gerken.

And then I got to the signatories of yesterday’s letter. They include Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), and Dr. John Eastman. If these three wanted to condemn a “vitriolic mob” that engaged in “physical intimidation and menacing behavior,” maybe they should have started with the January 6 rioters?

I appreciate how the letter seeks to shine the spotlight on the free-speech problem at Yale Law (and the citation of my reporting on page two). I agree with most of the letter’s content. I recognize that only a handful of the 1,400-plus signatories have any connection to January 6. But having Sen. Cruz, Rep. Gohmert, and Dr. Eastman on this letter is… not a great look. And, if anything, conservative politicos leaning on Dean Gerken in this way makes it less likely for her to take any of the four steps requested at the end of the letter, since disciplining the protesters would look like she was buckling under political pressure.

The letter also runs the risk of turning up the heat on the situation and converting the free-speech problem at Yale Law, a serious and substantive issue, into a political football. I’ve been speaking at a lot of events lately about free-speech problems in the legal academy, and one point I stress in my remarks is that free expression and academic freedom should not be viewed as conservative or right-wing causes. We all benefit from an environment in which people enjoy freedom of thought and speech, on the right and the left. And, by the same token, free speech can be threatened from the right as well as the left (even at Yale, in fact). ...

What’s next for Yale Law? In the near term, I fear a repeat of what happened at last month’s protest. This coming Wednesday, April 13, the Yale Federalist Society is hosting the Nathan Hale Symposium, a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Federalist Society—which got its start at Yale Law back in the spring of 1982. The topic of the Symposium is highly controversial: Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health, the case currently pending before the Supreme Court that could overrule Roe v. Wade, and the future of abortion in the United States.

Fortunately, the speakers are all appearing via Zoom, so none of them will have to put up with what Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association had to endure last month. But students will be watching the presentations from Room 127 (the site of last month’s event), there will probably be more actual attendees than the 30 or so who came on March 10, and the subject of abortion generates strong passions on both sides.

Dean Gerken and the YLS administration should consider themselves on notice: the Nathan Hale Symposium has the potential to turn into another free-speech debacle, so please be prepared. And would-be protesters should consider themselves on notice: here is Yale’s free speech policy. Please read it—and if you violate it, be prepared to accept the consequences

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