Yale Daily News

Tensions remain between two narratives of a March 10 student protest with armed police presence at Yale Law School in response to a Federalist Society event that hosted conservative speaker Kristen Waggoner. 

Waggoner was invited alongside Monica Miller, an associate at the American Humanist Association, to discuss their role in the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of first amendment rights, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski. Both lawyers took the same side, with Waggoner arguing the case before the Court and Miller filing amicus briefs. But Waggoner’s role as general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, drew criticism and protest from law students.

Waggoner and the student head of the Federalist Society have said they found the protesters disruptive and inappropriate, while the protesters said they abided by all University policies and did not shut down the event. The protesters have further taken issue with the presence of Yale Police officers at the event, including two in plain clothes.

Since the event, Laurence Silberman, a circuit judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit, reportedly sent an email to all Article III judges in the United States recommending that all federal judges “carefully consider” whether the Yale Law students who participated in the protest should be “disqualified for potential clerkships.” Silberman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of the six total officers present at the event last Thursday, four were armed and in uniform, and two were unarmed and wearing plainclothes. According to Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell, the presence of officers at the event was “not to enforce YLS policy but rather to protect the safety of the demonstrators and those they were protesting.” A plainclothes officer was assigned to monitor the event after the Law School made the YPD aware that a potential protest would occur, he said.

Campbell added that, once the event started and the protest began, Law School staff asked the YPD for additional assistance in case students did not reduce the noise. He said that this assistance was “fortunately … not needed” and that the event ended “without incident.”

Many of the protesters expressed to the News that they were not aware of the police presence in the room, and various students expressed concern and confusion over the presence of the police officers at the event. They cited statistics that LGBTQ people nationally are six times more likely to be stopped by the police, saying that the LGBTQ community is particularly at risk of abuse by the legal system. 

Yale Law School spokesperson Debra Kroszner, however, said that the officers were present in accordance with longstanding University policy.

“We regularly work with student groups for various events and speakers,” Kroszner said. “When visitors to Yale campus bring their own security, University policy requires the Law School to inform Yale Police. We then work with the police to determine the appropriate level of support for the particular visitor and/or event.”

A video of the exchange between law professor and event moderator Kate Stith and the protesters shows the protesters occasionally speaking as the University’s free speech policy was being read aloud. The video reveals a tense back-and-forth interaction between Stith and the protesters, who are holding posters and standing in the Law School room. 

Zack Austin LAW ’22, President of the Yale Federalist Society, said he surveyed the members of the Federalist Society board about whether they found the protests disruptive, and all 15 who attended the event said that the protest was. Austin said there were about 40 attendees compared to 120 protesters, and that Federalist Society members in a class across the hall said the professor asked students to yell to be heard above the protest.

Waggoner maintained her complaints about noise during the event, which she said was coming from the protesters in the hallway outside.

Elaine Emmerich LAW ’22 said that at the end of the event, a group of students were gathered outside to chant “protect trans kids” and show solidarity against the speaker. However, she added that the students were also making noise for a completely unrelated matter — wishing a classmate happy birthday. 

A video of the events in the hallway provided to the News shows a significant crowd of people holding signs and clapping and yelling, though it is not clear whether as a celebration or protest.

Rachel Perler LAW ’22, who protested the event, said that though the protesters in the hallway were audible, the protest did not prevent the event from taking place. The speaker event lasted the entirety of its intended time. According to Perler, all of the members of the Federalist Society who wished to ask questions were able to do so. 

Still, some expressed that they felt the protesters were out of line.

“It’s ironic that they’re now complaining about having security present when Yale has become known for such behavior and students at other schools have also posed a security threat to conservative speakers in just the last few weeks,” Waggoner said. “The students are right — we shouldn’t need security at such an event. It’s deeply concerning that their creation of a volatile and hostile environment necessitated it.”

Aasha Shaik LAW ’23, who stayed in the room to ask the panel some questions, shared that she did not see the police at any time when she was in the room. She added that the noise from the hallway did not at any point drown out the speakers, who were using microphones. 

Even so, members of the Federalist Society voiced complaints that the panelists faced difficulties exiting the Law School given the large numbers of the protesters in the hallway.

“I did not see any grabbing, jostling, or blocking,” Perler said. “That allegation does not make sense to me, since most protesters dispersed before Federalist Society members left the room— they were inside eating bagels for about 30 minutes more.”

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Update, Mar. 17, After publication of this article, the YPD reached out to the News saying their previous statement — that Law School staff advised the YPD that “additional resources should be on hand in case the event turned violent” — was inaccurate. In fact, the Law School staff “never expressed a concern about violence,” Campbell clarified. He added that the Law School asked the YPD officers for assistance solely in the event that the students “did not reduce the noise.” 

Eda Aker is a WKND Editor and previously covered Yale Law School for the University Desk. She is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.