Conservative judge urges U.S. judiciary to not hire Yale protesters as clerks

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Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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  • Judge Laurence Silberman says judges should "carefully consider" disqualifying protesters
  • Protest occurred at event featuring conservative legal speaker

(Reuters) - A conservative federal appeals court judge on Thursday in an unusual email urged judges to think twice about hiring as clerks any Yale Law School students who protested a recent event hosted by the school's chapter of the Federalist Society.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman sent the message to federal judges nationwide in response to an event at Yale last week featuring a conservative lawyer who at the U.S. Supreme Court defended a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding.

"All federal judges – and all federal judges are presumably committed to free speech – should carefully consider whether any such student so identified should be disqualified for potential clerkships," Silberman wrote, according to two recipients of the email.

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More than 120 Yale students protested in support of the LGBTQ community at a March 10 Federalist Society event where Kristen Waggoner, the general counsel of the conservative religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom, was speaking. As a professor read the school's free speech policy out loud, some shouted "this protest is free speech," the Yale Daily News reported. Police were present.

Silberman and Waggoner did not respond to requests for comment.

Waggoner had been invited to speak on a panel about her role in another recent First Amendment case at the Supreme Court, in which the high court found that a student could sue officials at the public university in Georgia for violating his rights by barring him from distributing religious literature on campus.

Debra Kroszner, a spokeswoman for the law school, in a statement said that after the moderator read the university's free speech policy for the first time, "the students exited the event, and it went forward."

"Members of the administration are nonetheless in serious conversation with students about our policies, expectations and norms," she said in a statement.

Silberman, who former Republican President Ronald Reagan appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1985, called attention to the event in an email to all federal judges nationally, according to two recipients.

Silberman said students at the event had "attempted to shout down speakers participating in a panel discussion on free speech."

The incident "prompts me to suggest that students who are identified as those willing to disrupt any such panel discussion should be noted," he wrote.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com