Prominent conservatives call for Law School to discipline protestors
Hundreds, including conservative elected officials, decried the Law School’s response to March 10 protest.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
In an open letter sent to Law School administrators on Thursday, hundreds of signatories — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) — criticized Yale Law School officials 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 to Law School Associate Deans Ellen Cosgrove, Mike Thompson and Ian Ayers, the letter calls on the administrators to disavow the behavior of student protestors and “take appropriate disciplinary actions in keeping with Yale’s free speech policies.” Among the hundreds of signatories are two U.S. 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 that the letter represents a partisan attack to silence opposition under the guise of protecting free speech.
The letter was drafted by the authors of the Philadelphia Statement, a document released in August 2020 that emphasizes the importance of free speech to American political society. According to the Philadelphia Statement’s website, the document affirms coexistence rather than division within a “cancel culture” in which “people and groups of good will are too often demonized or blacklisted simply for expressing their views.”
A representative of the Philadelphia Statement told the News that signatories of the statement worked together to draft and finalize the letter before collecting signatures and sending the letter to the Law School.
“Dean Gerken, we urge you to take concrete action to correct the course of Yale Law School,” the letter reads. “Our nation desperately needs the next generation of attorneys, legislators, judges, and Supreme Court justices to be marked by the character and values that undergird the American legal profession and a free society.”
Law School spokesperson Debra Kroszner declined to comment on the open letter.
The letter is the latest response to the March 10 student protest of a Federalist Society event that hosted constitutional lawyer Kristen Waggoner, who serves as the general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy organization which has been classed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Waggoner was invited to discuss her role in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning First Amendment rights, alongside the American Humanist Association associate Monica Miller. Despite their opposing political views, the two came down on the same side in the Supreme Court case.
Since the protest, more than half of the student body of the Law School — over 400 students — have signed an open letter condemning the presence of armed police at the protest and criticizing the Federalist Society’s decision to offer Waggoner a platform.
The question of disciplining student protesters has been a hotly contested one. Waggoner and Federalist Society President Zack Austin ’17 LAW ’22 both criticized protesters for disrupting the event, while student protesters have justified the protest under the University’s policies on free speech and claimed that they did not significantly impede the event from taking place.
Laurence Silberman, Washington, D.C. circuit judge for the U.S Court of Appeals, recommended that all federal judges consider whether students involved in the protest should be “disqualified for potential clerkships” in an email to all Article III judges in the United States.
On March 31, law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the protested panel, wrote to faculty that the students who participated in the protest had violated University free speech policy and should be educated on the importance of free expression and possibly sanctioned.
Gerken made her first public statement on the issue in an email to the Law School community on March 28. In the email, Gerken wrote that the student protesters engaged in “unacceptable” behavior, but that they did not violate Yale’s free speech policy and would avoid disciplinary actions.
For the signatories of Thursday’s open letter, Gerken’s March 28 response was not satisfactory.
“Among other things, [Gerken’s statement] continues to downplay the students’ unruly behavior, implicitly suggests that their treatment of the panelists was understandable, and raises serious doubts about Yale Law School’s stated intention to cultivate a free speech culture,” the open letter reads.
The letter concludes with a series of actions, specifically demanding that Law School administrators condemn the student protesters and initiate disciplinary proceedings, continue to bring a diverse set of speakers to campus and issue a retraction of Dean Gerken’s previous statement on the event.
Rachel Perler LAW ’22 told the News that the recommendations issued in the letter relied on a false narrative of what happened at the protested panel. The open letter refers to a “vitriolic mob” of student protesters who engaged in “physical intimidation and menacing behavior” in an attempt to silence speakers at the event. Perler, however, told the News that disruptions to the event were “minimal and brief” and did not rise to the level of violating the school’s free speech policy.
For Perler, the open letter read as an attempt to intimidate students out of further protest, no matter how justified that protest might be.
“I may have disagreed with some protesters’ approaches, but it’s absurd to frame what happened as a ‘woke mob’ or censorship of any form,” Perler wrote in an email to the News. “Censorship is really not the same as freedom from any pushback or criticisms by the groups 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 positions of the ADF that student protestors took issue with.
Robinson described the ADF as an organization “designed to make the lives of queer people around the world something like hell.” Robinson specifically cited the group’s misgendering of transgender people in lawsuits, rhetoric framing gay sex as a public health concern and advocacy for the relocation of incarcerated transgender women from women’s to men’s prisons.
In an email to the News, Austin wrote that while his organization was not involved in the drafting or publication of the letter, he “hope[s] that whatever someone’s political views are, they support the idea that free speech and free expression are crucial to a thriving university. I reject any notion that this is a partisan issue.”
Nevertheless, Perler and Robinson both called attention to the relative homogeneity of the signatories’ conservative political affiliations. In particular, Robinson pointed to Cruz, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and lawyer John Eastman as examples of the outspoken conservatives that they said make up the “rogue’s gallery” of signatories.
“Honestly, if they’ve seen fit to band together to try and make an example out of me and my friends, I honestly kind of take that as a compliment,” Robinson said. “It’s not going to stop me from doing the organizing and queer community building work that I am at this law school to do. And I’m excited to keep going and excited to keep fighting for and with my community.”
The Law School is located at 127 Wall St.