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Bad precedent- Letting anonymous private money dictate naming a public law school after a divisive justice

Fairfax, Virginia, criminal defense lawyer Jon Katz devotes himself to breathing life into the Bill of Rights one client at a time

Mar 31, 2016 Bad precedent- Letting anonymous private money dictate naming a public law school after a divisive justice

Thanks to Virginia Delegate Marcus Simon for opposing an anonymous donation — plus additional money from the right-wing Charles Koch Foundation — to cause late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s name to replace George Mason’s on the state-run law school in Northern Virginia.

The renaming was so impulsively swift, just weeks after Scalia’s February 2016 death, as to overlook the resulting acronym in calling this the Antonin Scalia School of Law, or ASSlaw or the full acronym A.S.S.O.L. If A.S.S.L. does not fix this acronym challenge soon, it will pay to fix its original signage and name recognition.

Shouldn’t the law school’s current students and alumni have been given the courtesy to comment in advance on this name change that will so materially and retrospectively affect them?

Are we going to let private money dictate government-run higher education in this way, and so swiftly?

To me, Justice Scalia overall was more of a dangerous divider than a bringer of beneficial decisions. He was a darling of pro-execution forces, for instance once nastily referring to voices of death penalty abolitionists as “sanctimonious criticism of America’s death penalty.” Kansas v. Marsh, 126 S. Ct. 2516, 2532 (2006).  Last December, he touted an amicus brief’s concept of sending black students to “less advanced schools.” He too often was unnecessarily nasty.

Universities should not be so hasty in letting money versus merit buy names for schools and buildings. American University was fortunate that after constructing the Adnan Kashoggi center during the height of the Iran-Contra hearings, Kashoggi ultimately defaulted on his pledge payments and thereby lost his name on the building. May A.S.S.L. one day be so fortunate in the future to be able to remove Justice Scalia’s name from its masthead.

Interestingly, had Justice Scalia still been alive and on the Supreme Court, he likely would not have hired any of his namesake law school’s graduates clerk for him.

The sad irony of this Scalia law school naming drips all the more bitterly when considering that it is happening with one of the Supreme Court’s most stalwart death penalty protectors in one of the nation’s most active executioning states. All this sadly is happening just a few miles up the road from my office.

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