Prominent conservatives call on law school to discipline protesters
Tim Tai, staff photographer
In an open letter sent to law school administrators Thursday, hundreds of signatories — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) — criticized law school officials for Yale for the school’s response to the March 10 protest. of a Federalist Society event.
Addressed to Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken, as well as Associate Law School Deans Ellen Cosgrove, Mike Thompson and Ian Ayers, the letter calls on administrators to disavow student protester behavior and “take appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the freedom of Yale”. speech policies. Among the hundreds of signatories are two US senators, nine members of the House of Representatives, five governors and 26 state attorneys general. For two law students interviewed by the News, the conservative majority among the signatories suggests the letter represents a partisan attack to silence the opposition under the guise of protecting free speech.
The letter was authored by the authors of the Declaration of Philadelphia, a document released in August 2020 that highlights the importance of free speech to American political society. According to the Philadelphia Declaration website, the document affirms coexistence rather than division within a “culture of cancellation” in which “people and groups of goodwill are too often demonized or blacklisted. simply for expressing their opinions”.
A Philadelphia statement representative told the News that the signatories of the statement worked together to draft and finalize the letter before collecting signatures and sending the letter to law school.
“Dean Gerken, we urge you to take concrete action to correct the course of Yale Law School,” the letter read. “Our nation desperately needs the next generation of lawyers, legislators, judges, and Supreme Court justices to be marked by the character and values that underpin the American legal profession and a free society.”
Law school spokeswoman Debra Kroszner declined to comment on the open letter.
The letter is the latest response to the March 10 student protest against a Federalist Society event that hosted constitutional attorney Kristen Waggoner, who is general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy organization which has been classified as a hate group. by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Wagoner was asked to discuss her role in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding First Amendment rights, alongside American Humanist Association associate Monica Miller. Despite their opposing political views, the two sided on the same side in the Supreme Court case.
Since the protest, more than half of law school students — more than 400 students — have signed an open letter condemning the presence of armed police at the protest and criticizing the Federalist Society’s decision to provide a platform form to Wagoner.
The issue of student protester discipline has been hotly contested. Wagoner and Federalist Society President Zack Austin ’17 LAW ’22 both criticized protesters for disrupting the event, while student protesters justified the protest under the University’s freedom policies. of expression and asserted that they had not significantly interfered with the holding of the event.
Laurence Silberman, Washington, D.C. Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals, recommended that all federal judges consider whether students involved in the protest should be “disqualified for potential internships” in an email. addressed to all Article III judges in the United States.
On March 31, law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the protest panel, wrote to faculty that students who participated in the protest had violated the University’s free speech policy and should be made aware of the importance of freedom of expression and possibly sanctioned.
Gerken made his first public statement on the matter in an email to the law school community on March 28. In the email, Gerken wrote that the student protesters were engaging in “unacceptable” behavior, but that they had not and would violate Yale’s free speech policy. avoid disciplinary action.
For those who signed Thursday’s open letter, Gerken’s March 28 response was unsatisfactory.
“Among other things, [Gerken’s statement] continues to downplay the students’ unruly behavior, implicitly suggests that their treatment of panelists was understandable, and raises serious doubts about Yale Law School’s stated intention to cultivate a culture of free speech,” reads the open letter.
The letter concludes with a series of actions, specifically demanding that law school administrators condemn student protesters and initiate disciplinary proceedings, continue to bring a diverse set of speakers to campus, and issue a retraction of the Dean Gerken’s previous statement on the event.
Rachel Perler LAW ’22 told The News that the recommendations in the letter were based on a false account of what happened at the protested panel. The open letter refers to a “vitriolous mob” of student protesters who engaged in “physical intimidation and threatening behavior” in an effort to silence speakers at the event. Perler, however, told the News that the disruptions to the event were “minimal and brief” and did not rise to the level of a violation of the school’s free speech policy.
For Perler, the open letter read as an attempt to intimidate students into protesting further, however justified.
“I may have disagreed with the approaches of some protesters, but it is absurd to call what happened a ‘woke mob’ or censorship in any form,” Perler wrote in a email to News. “Censorship is really not the same as the absence of any pushback or criticism from the groups that the ADF wants to criminalize – queer and transgender students.”
Henry Robinson LAW ’24 noted that the authors of the open letter did not attempt to defend the ADF positions that the student protesters disputed.
Robinson described the ADF as an organization “designed to make the lives of gay people everywhere hellish.” Robinson specifically cited the group’s mistreatment of transgender people in trials, rhetoric labeling gay sex a public health issue, and advocacy for the transfer of incarcerated transgender women from women’s prisons to men’s prisons.
In an email to the News, Austin wrote that while his organization was not involved in writing or publishing the letter, he “hopes[s] that regardless of a person’s political views, it supports the idea that free speech and freedom of speech are crucial to a successful university. I reject any notion that this is a partisan issue.
Nonetheless, both Perler and Robinson drew attention to the relative homogeneity of the signatories’ conservative political affiliations. In particular, Robinson cited Cruz, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and attorney John Eastman as examples of outspoken conservatives who they say make up the signatories’ “rogue gallery.”
“Honestly, if they saw fit to band together to try to make an example of me and my friends, honestly, I take that as a compliment,” Robinson said. “That’s not going to stop me from doing the queer organizing and community building work that I have to do at this law school. And I’m excited to continue and keep fighting for and with my community.
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