When a group of Yale Law School students shouted down a bipartisan panel on free speech, their actions caught the attention of a federal judge—and not in a favorable way. DC Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman sent an email Thursday to all US federal judges, bringing into question the eligibility of these students for positions in clerkships and warning that these academics may not be committed to the idea of free speech. And that, Silberman suggested, stood in direct opposition to the duty of a district judge to uphold the First Amendment. He encouraged his fellow judges to "carefully consider" the admittance of these students.
Silberman's email follows the recent protest of a Federalist Society event at the Yale Law School on the evening of March 10. The Federalist Society, a conservative group dedicated to law and public policy, had invited two speakers to come to Yale to give a discourse on a recent Supreme Court case—Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski.
Kristen Waggoner, of Alliance Defending Freedom, and Monica Miller, an associate of the American Humanist Association, had arrived to deliver discourse on their recent involvement in the case. Waggoner and Miller represented Chike Uzuegbunam, a Georgia Gwinnett College student, and argued First Amendment principles to protect a student's right to share their faith on campus.
In response to the speakers, a group of around 120 Yale students gathered at the building, attempting to shut down the event. Protesters in the event room began questioning the speakers and offering heckling arguments.
"What's the price of a dead trans kid?" a protestor asked the event speakers.
Police and school security arrived at the scene as a preventative measure. Soon after, the group dispersed with a few protesters remaining behind. But the backlash to the event didn't stop there, according to Yale Daily News.
A group of 400 students signed an open letter, condemning the invitation of the speakers and the use of police action to quell the conflict.
"Understandably, a large swath of [Yale Law School] students felt that [the Federalist Society’s] decision to lend legitimacy to this hate group by inviting its general counsel to speak at [Yale Law School] profoundly undermined our community’s values of equity and inclusivity at a time when LGBTQ youth are actively under attack in Texas, Florida, and other states. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS’ queer student body at risk of harm," the letter stated.
Debra Kroszner, a representative of Yale Law School, told outlets that the school would examine its processes to deal with student protests, communicating that the leadership of the school would not take the incident lightly. The school, however, has upheld the legitimacy of the student's protest that heckled the panelists.
"Members of the administration are nonetheless in serious conversation with students about our policies, expectations and norms," Kroszner said.
Waggoner, one of the Federalist Society's guest speakers, expressed disappointment in the student body at Yale.
"Future lawyers should have the critical thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, humility, and maturity to engage with ideas and legal principles that they may disagree with," she wrote. "Unfortunately, some students who attended the Federalist Society event refused to allow others to speak and acted in an aggressive and hostile manner towards me [and others.]"
Silberman's email echoed Waggoner's sentiments.
"The latest events at Yale Law School prompt me to suggest that students who are identified as those willing to disrupt any such panel discussion should be noted. All federal judges—and all federal judges are presumably committed to free speech—should carefully consider whether any student so identified should be disqualified from potential clerkships," Silberman said.
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