Last October, I wondered whether Yale Law School, which experienced a series of scandals relating to free speech last year, might be turning over a new leaf. The YLS administration announced several concrete steps to protect speech and improve its intellectual climate, and there were early indications that they were bearing fruit—or that things were at least settling down at 127 Wall Street. For example, leading Supreme Court advocate Kannon Shanmugam came to give his traditional SCOTUS Term Preview to the Yale Federalist Society, and he was not protested—unlike the year before, when he faced 70 vocal protesters.
But Shanmugam, one of the nicest and most reasonable people you’ll ever meet, is not exactly a lightning rod, and he was protested mainly because his law firm, Paul, Weiss, represents ExxonMobil. A much better test for whether things have truly changed at Yale would be to host an event with the Queen of Darkness herself: Kristen Waggoner, the CEO, president, and general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”), the conservative Christian advocacy group that is loathed by the legal left for its stances on LGBTQ issues, among other things. When Waggoner spoke at Yale last March, all hell broke loose: more than 100 angry protesters attempted to shout down the event, and although they didn’t succeed in shutting it down, they did disrupt it significantly.
Last September, I suggested that Yale Law School should bring back Kristen Waggoner, arguing that “if Waggoner could return to 127 Wall Street and not have to leave the building with a police escort—or even leave having had a pleasant experience—that would go a long way toward showing an improved intellectual environment at Yale.” And it looks like someone heeded my suggestion.
This past Tuesday, January 24, Kristen Waggoner returned to Yale Law, this time to discuss 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, which she argued before the Supreme Court in December. Waggoner’s client in 303 Creative is a Colorado website designer who doesn’t want to design websites for same-sex weddings, and the case presents the following question: “Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
303 Creative is one of the most interesting, important, and high-profile cases of the current Term, so it’s obvious why a law student group might want to host an event with one of the lawyers who argued it. In other words, I don’t consider the invitation to Waggoner to be “trolling” by the Yale Federalist Society, i.e., something done for the sole purpose of antagonizing the left.
In addition, Yale FedSoc arranged for Waggoner to be joined by two other speakers: Professor Nadine Strossen of New York Law School, who served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008, and Professor Robert Post of Yale Law School, which he led as Dean from 2009 to 2017. Professors Post and Strossen are two of the nation’s leading scholars of the First Amendment, so an event featuring them plus Kristen Waggoner is impressive. Given my longstanding interest in the First Amendment and free speech, I would have wanted to attend myself, had it been open to the public.
So how did Tuesday’s YLS event with Kristen Waggoner go? In a word, swimmingly—which might surprise or even shock people who are used to associating the words “Yale Law School” with “free-speech debacle.” …