Minute-by-Minute: Inside The Out-Of-Control Protest at Yale Law School

On March 10, 2022, a protest at Yale Law School—just ranked (again) this week as the #1 law school in the U.S.—got horrendously out of hand.

The background: Yale’s Federalist Society had invited two lawyers of antithetical ideologies to speak about Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a legal case about civil liberties that their respective organizations had been aligned on and won 8-1 at the Supreme Court.

Monica Miller is the legal director of the progressive American Humanist Society, and Kristen Waggoner is General Counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative faith-based non-profit that describes itself as “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life” both in America around the world. ADF has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It is unsurprising that a lawyer from the group might not be welcomed by the majority of the students at Yale, a leading progressive influence in the country’s culture wars.

But what happened both inside and outside the classroom after Miller and Waggoner arrived on campus on March 10 and tried to have a discussion about civil liberties—moderated by Professor Kate Stith (who told the students to “grow up”)—went far beyond the boundaries of a peaceful protest.

One hundred and twenty student protesters were sufficiently physically menacing that the police were called, and Miller and Waggoner were escorted hastily from the premises in a police car.

Accounts of what happened both during the session and after have varied, with Yale spokesperson Debra Kroszner initially brushing off the disruption by protesters as happening only at the outset at the hourlong session. “At the very start of the March 10 event, when students began to make noise, the moderator read the University’s free speech policy for the first time,” Kroszner said in a statement. “At that point, the students exited the event, and it went forward. When students made noise in the hallways, administrators and staff instructed students to stop. During this time, Yale Law School staff spoke to [Yale Police Department] officers who were already on hand about whether assistance might be needed in the event the students did not follow those instructions. Fortunately, that assistance was not needed and the event went forward until its conclusion.”

But, according to Waggoner (from whom you will hear below) and other eye-witnesses whose accounts I will share in subsequent newsletters, that is just plain wrong.

Grotesque behavior—including thumping on the walls, chanting, threats such as “Fight me, bitch,” and the giving of the middle finger—went on for over an hour. The floor shook, and other meetings and classes in the building were stopped. Remarkably the Dean of Students, Ellen Cosgrove, was apparently present in the classroom and did nothing.

It then took two weeks for the Dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, to say publicly that what had happened was “unacceptable” in a statement that has been criticized by many for not going nearly far enough, including influential legal analyst (and Yale Law School alum) David Lat and Waggoner herself.

Yale and its law school have become infamous for campus protests that extend into more generalized culture wars across America. In recent years, there has been Halloween-gateDinner Party-gateTrap House-gatea fight over whether white male poets ought to be replaced on the English literature curriculum, a sit-in over the Kavanaugh hearings, and so on.

But while the debates on each topic are arguably essential, sources (who include current students, faculty, and alumni) tell me they have been greatly troubled by the increasing intolerance, intimidation, and bullying by the protestors—and by the seeming ineptitude of the faculty to exercise authority and genuinely encourage a culture of free speech on campus. One alum tells me he’s so fed up, he’s cut Yale out of his will. And in my next newsletter, I will publish a startling interview with a current Law School student about his thoughts on the events of March 10.

“I didn’t think it could get worse than when I was there, but apparently it has,” says Aaron Haviland, a former Federalist society member, who wrote in 2019 that he felt so unsafe on Yale’s campus, he was counting the days to graduation.

To date, there’s been precious little push back about the manner of the protests on campus from anyone who is supposed to be in charge. “I think they are frightened,” a former YLS graduate told me, saying that ten years ago the environment was much different.

But, this time, there was push back from outside—from a sphere which has the power to issue a direct hit to Yale Law School. Federal judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided he’d had enough after Yale Law students demand their members sign a petition protesting that the calling of the police had been “unsafe” for the students. In an email to his fellow federal judges, Silberman wrote:

The latest events at Yale Law School, in which students attempted to shout down speakers participating in a panel discussion on free speech, 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.

I interviewed Waggoner to get the tick-tock of precisely what it felt like to be inside that classroom at Yale Law School on March 10.

I ask you: Is what you are about to read a description of the kind of behavior anyone wants at the top law school in this country?

Read the whole interview at Vicky Ward Investigates.