Yale Law School Bars Press From Free Speech Panel. Yes, Really.

Press ban comes after similar event was disrupted last year

Yale Law School students protest in March 2022
January 24, 2023

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Yale Law School promised student activists last week that it would bar press from a panel on free speech featuring Kristen Waggoner, the conservative lawyer whose last talk at the law school ended in a police escort. The group hosting the event, Yale Law School’s chapter of the Federalist Society, agreed to those ground rules, students said.

On Tuesday, the school kept its word, barring the Washington Free Beacon from covering the event. Administrators stated that media were also forbidden from lingering in the hallways outside the event, in keeping with the law school’s published media policy, and asked that all attendees show a Yale Law School ID.

Whatever policies are on the books, this appears to be the first time many of them were enforced—and certainly the first time they were enforced so aggressively. Clustered outside and speaking on the condition of anonymity, students and professors alike said they had never seen such a forceful and well-coordinated attempt to control access to an event.

The spectacle suggests that last year’s meltdown, in which student protesters drowned out a panel on free speech featuring Waggoner and Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association, still haunts the law school, which has been seeking to rehabilitate its reputation in the wake of the fallout. Fourteen federal judges announced this fall that they would no longer hire clerks from Yale Law, saying the incident—and the school’s failure to discipline those involved in it—demonstrated an unacceptable hostility to conservative views.

The event on Tuesday appears to have gone without a hitch. Nadine Strossen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, joined Waggoner, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom, for what was by all accounts a cordial, well-mannered discussion of First Amendment law. Students exiting the event said there were no ear-shattering chants, no profanity-laden signs, and no ad hominem questions.

"There was not even a peaceful protest," Strossen told the Free Beacon.

It was a sharp contrast to last March, when protesters chanted, heckled, banged on doors, and cursed out attendees. The fracas was so intense that Waggoner, who has argued a slew of religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, had to be escorted out of the building by the police.

In an apparent bid to avoid more controversy, the law school told student activists last week that "no press" signs would be "prominently displayed" and administrators would "enforce this." It also said—to the activists’ chagrin—that it would not commit to making a public statement of support in the event that attendees were "doxxed," saying that doing so might only draw more media attention.

Strossen on Monday criticized the school’s decision to ban press and undergraduates from the event. That move was "sadly ironic" for an event about free speech, Strossen said, calling it "unjustifiable."

Robert Capodilupo, the president of the law school’s Federalist Society chapter, declined to comment on the press ban. But like Strossen, he noted the marked improvement over last year, saying it "was great to see so many students engage with our speakers and their arguments in good faith."

For Waggoner, the placid proceedings justify some measure of optimism.

"While only time will tell if the Yale administration is committed to long-term meaningful change," she said, "our hope is that this event begins a new era of tolerance for ideological diversity on campus."