(Dis)Order in the Court

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 3/27

If you’ve ever watched a courtroom drama, you’re likely familiar with the intense moments on the witness stand that make or break movies. No legal drama is complete without a fiery cross-examination or a heated objection battle that (naturally) determines the entire outcome of the case. If tempers flare too high, the judge will happily call in the bailiff to escort the troublesome party out of the courtroom (ideally in handcuffs). 

Of course, in real life, most legal proceedings are resolved with far less flash and flare. While there are certainly exceptions, most court cases are resolved civilly, and the best attorneys remain cool and collected, if not cordial. 

But that may not be the case for long. Recent events at Yale Law School suggest that the standard of decorum in the legal profession may be changing—and not for the better. 

On March 10th, more than 100 Yale law students attempted to use the heckler’s veto to shut down a Federalist Society panel featuring Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association and Kristen Waggoner of the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom. Miller and Waggoner had taken the same side in a 2021 Supreme Court case that, ironically, centered around freedom of speech on college campuses, and their discussion was supposed to highlight how a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on civil liberty cases.

Prior to the start of the event, activist students distributed a flier denouncing the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as a “hate group” for its positions on LGBTQ issues. They declared that “providing a veneer of respectability” enabled ADF “to do work that attacks the very lives of LGBTQ people.” When Yale Law professor Kate Stith began to introduce the speakers, the protesters rose and began jeering both at Waggoner and at students from the Federalist Society, as seen in the video footage from the event. While they eventually left the room, they proceeded to disrupt the panel from the hallway outside, where they stomped, shouted, and pounded the walls so loudly that the racket could be heard in rooms across the building. After the panel concluded, police officers had to escort the speakers out of the building to ensure their safety.

The story doesn’t end there. Shortly after the panel, students circulated an open letter supporting the “peaceful protest” and declaring that the Law School’s “decision to allow police officers in…put YLS’ queer student body at risk of harm.” A shocking 425 students have signed the letter—more than 60% of the entire student body. It thus comes as no surprise that the Yale administration has done nothing to discipline the students for the clear violation of law school policies.

The message is clear: today’s elite law students—and perhaps even the law schools themselves—believe that civil discourse and freedom of speech are obsolete. Both must be sacrificed at the altar of progressive values. Never mind that the legal system depends on the fair exchange of ideas and the presentation of opposing views. 

In this week’s featured article, National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood analyzes the debacle at Yale Law School and explains what it reveals about the state of higher education:

The Yale Law School disruption shows that the underlying contempt among many students for academic and intellectual freedom has not dissipated. The campus world is still imperiled by students—and sometimes faculty members—who have forgotten or do not care that respect for free exchange is a basic precondition of higher learning.

…the university is among those venues set apart for vibrant exchange of ideas. It is not the only venue. The courtroom is another. Though the manner in which such exchanges occur on campus and in court differs, both provide an orderly and controlled environment with the aim of ensuring a fair hearing of contending arguments. Actions intended to prevent such hearings injure the whole rationale of the academy and, indeed, the law.

Although Yale’s response to the affair was abysmal, the response from the broader legal community leaves us with some hope. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman sent an email to federal judges nationwide urging them to “carefully consider” whether students involved in the protests “should be disqualified for potential clerkships.” 

Regardless of what Yale’s ranking says, its students have shown by their misbehavior that they are unprepared for the demands of an adversarial legal system. The best lawyers have many tricks up their sleeves—but pounding the walls of the courtroom and shouting obscenities at opposing counsel are not among them.

Until next week. 

P.S. NAS is more than just a national organization: we have a number of state-level NAS affiliate groups that are fighting to preserve higher education within their region. To make sure their work doesn’t go unnoticed, we will be spotlighting the success of NAS affiliates at the end of each issue of CounterCurrent

Without further ado, here’s this week’s spotlight: A “Social Justice Cheat Sheet” prepared for policy-makers by the Oregon chapter was presented to all legislators in South Dakota on March 7th as part of legislative efforts there to ban race and gender stereotyping in K-12 and college education. The cheat sheet was prepared by the Oregon affiliate to help policy-makers respond to the beguiling rhetoric that often accompanies social justice activism and has been downloaded over 70,000 times since being issued in June of 2021.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: 12019, Pixabay, Public Domain

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