Last October, I wondered if Yale Law School, which has experienced a series of free speech scandals in the past year, might be turning over a new leaf. The YLS board announced several concrete steps to protect speech and improve its intellectual climate, and there were early signs that they were bearing fruit—or at least that things had calmed down at 127 Wall Street. For example, leading Supreme Court lawyer Kannon Shanmugam he came to give his traditional review of SCOTUS to the Yale Federalist Society and was unopposed—unlike the year before, when he faced 70 vocal protesters.
But Shanmugam, one of the nicest and most reasonable people you’ll ever meet, isn’t exactly a lightning rod, and he protested mainly because his law firm, Paul, Weiss, represents ExxonMobil. A much better test of whether things have really changed at Yale would be to host an event with the Queen of Darkness herself: Kristen Waggoner, CEO, president and general counsel of the Freedom Defense Alliance (“ADF”), a conservative Christian advocacy group hated by the legal left , among other things, for his views on LGBTQ issues. When Wagoner spoke at Yale last March, all hell broke loose: More than 100 angry protesters tried to shut down the event, and while they failed to stop it, they succeeded significantly disrupt.
Last September, I suggested that Yale Law School should reinstate Kristen Wagoner, arguing that “if Wagoner could return to 127 Wall Street and not have to leave the building with a police escort—or even leave after having a pleasant experience—it would goes a long way toward demonstrating an improved intellectual environment at Yale.” And it looks like someone listened to my suggestion.
Last Tuesday, January 24th, Kristen Wagoner returned to Yale Law, this time to talk 303 Creative LLC v. Helen, which she advocated before the Supreme Court in December. Waggoner’s client in 303 Creative is a web designer from Colorado who does not want to design websites for same-sex weddings, and the case presents the following question: “Does the application of a public accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or remain silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
303 Creative is one of the most interesting, important, and memorable cases of the current term, so it’s obvious why a group of law students might want to host an event featuring one of the attorneys who argued it. In other words, I do not consider the invitation to Wagoner to be “trolling” of the Yale Federalist Society, i.e., something done only to antagonize the left.
In addition, Yale FedSoc arranged for Wagoner 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 leading First Amendment scholars in the country, so an event featuring them and Kristen Wagoner is impressive. Given my long-standing interest in the First Amendment and free speech, I would have wanted to attend myself if it had been open to the public.
How was Tuesday’s YLS event with Kristen Wagoner? In a word, smooth – which might surprise or even shock people who are used to associating the words “Yale Law School” with the “free speech debacle.” …