The Newest Insanity Out Of Yale Law School
These controversies could be wake-up calls—for the YLS community, legal academia, and society at large.
Welcome to Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can subscribe by clicking on the button below.
I realize that the tag line for Original Jurisdiction is “news, views, and colorful commentary about law and the legal profession,” not “the latest controversies and scandals at Yale Law School.” But one of my missions is telling readers about what we’d be gossiping about at the water cooler if we were all back in the office—and right now, the subject is once again YLS.1
Some of you are rolling your eyes right now and saying, “Seriously, Lat—Yale Law School, again?” If you have YLS fatigue, stop reading here; I take no offense.2
For those of you still reading, here’s the latest out of Yale Law School, reported in the Washington Free Beacon by Aaron Sibarium (who really owns this beat, having previously broken the news of the YLS party-invite controversy):
The Yale Law School administrator caught on tape pressuring a student to apologize for an allegedly racist party invitation pushed the Yale Law Journal to host a diversity trainer who told students that anti-Semitism is merely a form of anti-blackness and suggested that the FBI artificially inflates the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes.
The comments from diversity trainer Ericka Hart… shocked members of the predominantly liberal law review, many of whom characterized the presentation as anti-Semitic, according to a memo from Yale Law Journal editors obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
"I consider myself very liberal," a student quoted in the memo said. But Hart's presentation, delivered September 17 to members of the prestigious law review, was "almost like a conservative parody of what antiracism trainings are like."
The administrator involved in both incidents is Yaseen Eldik, YLS’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. There’s some dispute over the exact nature of Eldik’s involvement in bringing Hart to the YLJ editors, with Yale law professor Monica Bell claiming on Twitter that Eldik didn’t urge the hiring of Hart and simply provided her contact info to the YLJ.
As an avid reader (and writer) of fiction, I appreciate how people think in terms of narratives, so I understand Sibarium’s decision to cast Eldik as the “villain” of “Wokeness Gone Wild at Yale Law.” But speaking for myself, I’m not particularly interested in who bears responsibility for the hiring of Ericka Hart. I’m more interested in the content of her “training”—which was offered not just to YLJ editors this September, but also to the entire law school back in February—and what it says about the state of discourse at Yale Law and in elite legal academia.3
To get a fuller sense of Ericka Hart’s antiracism training, read Aaron Sibarium’s excellent article, as well as the primary documents embedded within it, which flesh out and support his reporting. To give you a flavor, here are some highlights:
“[A] law journal editor asked Hart why her presentation had addressed inequities like ‘pretty privilege’ and ‘fatphobia’ but not anti-Semitism. According to the [YLJ] memo, which collected feedback on the training from 33 law journal editors, Hart responded that she'd already covered anti-Semitism by discussing anti-blackness, because some Jews are black. She also raised questions about FBI data showing that Jews are the most frequent targets of hate crimes—implying, in the words of one journal editor, that the people compiling those statistics had an ‘agenda.’”
As one editor told the Free Beacon, Hart “basically said anti-Semitism is a subset of anti-blackness. She didn't recognize there could be anti-Semitism against white people.”
Hart claims “that anyone who disagrees with her has likely ‘been conditioned’ to ‘dismiss’ black people. After listing her various privileges—including ‘cisgender passing,’ ‘pretty privilege,’ and ‘small fat privilege/thicc’—she declares that she is a ‘Poly adjacent’ ‘survivor of white neighborhoods,’ and is ‘always aware of white supremacy’ when she walks around New York City.”
Hart “go[es] on to assert that slavery is intrinsic to capitalism; that there is a ‘genocide against black people’; that biology is a ‘racist pseudoscience created by white people to further their dominance’; that politeness and ‘perfectionism’ are white supremacy; and that gender is a ‘tool of colonization’ responsible for ‘multiple murders of black trans women.’”
Now, some folks might try to dismiss Aaron Sibarium’s story because his outlet, the Washington Free Beacon, is a conservative publication with an “agenda.” It’s certainly true that Sibarium writes from a distinctive point of view (and I don’t think he would deny this).
But if even a fraction of Sibarium’s reporting is accurate, it’s still deeply disturbing. And almost all of his article is based on original documents, such as the YLJ memo about the training and excerpts from Ericka Hart’s own materials, whose authenticity nobody disputes. (This was also the case with his reporting about the email controversy now known as Traphouse-gate, which was based heavily on audio recordings of interactions between YLS administrators and Trent Colbert, the student who sent the offending email.)
The fact that this training took place (and the fact that Yale Law paid good money for it) is depressing. But two things give me hope.
First, I was impressed by how many Yale Law Journal editors, a generally left-leaning group, spoke up to criticize the training. Per Aaron Sibarium:
“Reactions to the training were almost uniformly negative, with 82 percent of editors saying they would not invite Hart back even if she incorporated their feedback.”
“Over a third expressed distress at her treatment of anti-Semitism—’shocking,’ ‘offensive,’ and ‘upsetting’ is how three separate editors described it—while several more mocked her account of ‘white supremacy culture,’ which one editor called ‘goalpost-moving, unfalsifiable nonsense.’ On a scale of 1-10, the most common score for the training was a 1.”
“At least five different editors slammed the suggestion that things like ‘punctuality’ and ‘objectivity’ constitute white supremacy, with one going so far as to accuse Hart of racism. ‘How is it not infantilizing for her to stand up there and say such traits are inherently white,’ the editor asked. ‘This sort of neoracism is not something we should be promulgating at the journal.’”
“For some students, the most offensive thing about Hart's training was its anti-intellectualism. ‘We are supposed to be the smartest law students in the world,’ an editor wrote. ‘Yet for two hours, we were forced to sit quietly and unquestioningly take on faith asinine arguments devoid of any evidence.’”
It can be risky to criticize an antiracism training, lest you get labeled as racist yourself. Kudos to all the students who were willing to take that risk.4
Second, even if coverage of these controversies is temporarily embarrassing for Yale Law, it could be salutary in the long run. It could serve as a wake-up call to the Yale Law School community, including students, alumni, and administrators, telling them that YLS is not the real world (just as “Twitter is not real life,” as many folks like to say). Incidents like this one show how life inside the YLS bubble is so far removed from the real world—and how living inside that bubble, without a clue of what lies outside, is not preparing YLS students to navigate the world into which they’ll graduate.
In recent years, we’ve experienced a one-way ratchet—at Yale Law, in legal academia, and in many other spheres, including higher education in general, journalism, social media, and corporate America—that goes solely in the direction of certain left-wing views. The holders of these views make the most noise, and they bully or shame people into agreeing with them—or at least into staying silent. This makes it seem like they have little to no opposition, so people in positions of leadership—law school deans, newspaper and magazine editors, corporate executives—kowtow to them and their demands. (And some of these leaders don’t mind; making grand progressive pronouncements allows them to keep the left happy while maintaining the status quo on many other fronts, including economic issues.)
But today—a day after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) lost his reelection bid, in part because of culture-war issues in the education context—we might be at a turning point. The members of the silent majority are speaking up. We’re telling our leaders that yes, there are actually real people on the other side of what Bari Weiss refers to as the “Woke Revolution.”
And we’re not bad people. We are simply people—intelligent, thoughtful, good-hearted people, who wouldn’t be caught dead in MAGA hats—who think things have gotten a little out of hand. And we want the great institutions of our country, including but not limited to Yale Law School, to preserve the gains already made in terms of diversity and inclusion while combining them with a modicum of reasonableness, moderation, and common sense.
Thanks for reading Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, you can reach me by email at email@example.com, and you can share this post or subscribe to Original Jurisdiction using the buttons below.
It’s true that Yale Law probably gets covered way more than it should. But I understand how this happens. Like everyone else, writers and editors respond to incentives; our goal is to be read. And when we write about YLS, many of you read. Just look at the top posts in the history of Original Jurisdiction (which celebrates its first birthday next month). The #2, #3, #4, and #6 stories are all about tempests in the Yale Law School teapot—which tells me that readers are interested in such stories, and which is why I produce more of them.
I don’t expect every reader to open every Original Jurisdiction email; people are busy, and not every edition of this newsletter will interest every reader. According to Substack, an open rate of 50 percent or more is good. I’m happy to report that the emails I send out during the week get open rates of around 50 to 60 percent. The open rate for Judicial Notice, the weekly roundup of legal news that I send to paid subscribers over the weekend, hovers around 70 percent—which I like to think reflects its usefulness as a concise digest of the week’s most notable news.
If you’re interested in whom to blame for the hiring of Ericka Hart, read the YLJ memo embedded at the end of Sibarium’s article, in which Ryan Liu, the Journal’s diversity and membership editor, explains how Hart came to be hired. His memo is quite detailed, although it doesn’t mention how much YLJ paid Hart for the training—which I’m guessing was an embarrassingly large sum. In footnote 8, Liu writes that Eldik “recommended Ericka’s training as practical and informative,” which suggests that he did more than just provide contact information.
Judges who hire law clerks, law firm partners who hire associates, and other legal employers, please note how many YLS students spoke out against this training. The extreme views of a few members of the YLS community should not diminish your esteem for the many who dissent from these views—and your willingness to hire them.