Profs object to law school press release mourning death of Scalia
File photo of Justice Antonin Scalia courtesy of ABA Media Services.
Two Georgetown University law professors objected when the school issued a press release on Saturday saying the school “mourns the loss” of Justice Antonin Scalia, a 1957 graduate of the university who went on to Harvard Law School.
The Washington Post and Above the Law (in posts here and here) covered the law profs who objected, and the law profs who objected to the objecting law profs. Above the Law has dubbed the contretemps “Scaliagate.”
The school press release included quotes from Georgetown law dean William Treanor, who called Scalia “a giant in the history of the law” and “a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law.”
The press release went on to note that Scalia had visited the school in November to talk to 1Ls, and he had stayed long after the lecture was over. “He cared passionately about the profession, about the law and about the future, and the students who were fortunate enough to hear him will never forget the experience,” the press release said. “We will all miss him.”
That led to a response on Tuesday from two law professors: Louis Michael Seidman and Gary Peller. They originally objected in emails to the dean and faculty, but their messages were later cleared for dissemination to the entire student body, according to Above the Law, which has their full responses here.
“Our norms of civility preclude criticizing public figures immediately after their death,” Seidman wrote. “For now, then, all I’ll say is that I disagree with these sentiments and that expressions attributed to the ‘Georgetown Community’ in the press release issued this evening do not reflect the views of the entire community.”
Peller’s email was critical of Scalia. He said that, like Seidman, he was also put off by the press release and he imagined many others “cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic.
“I am not suggesting that J. Scalia should have been criticized on the day of his death, nor that the ‘community’ should not be thankful for his willingness to meet with our students. But he was not a legal figure to be lionized or emulated by our students. He bullied lawyers, trafficked in personal humiliation of advocates, and openly sided with the party of intolerance in the ‘culture wars’ he often invoked. In my mind, he was not a giant in any good sense.”
Those emails led to a response by law professors Randy Barnett and Nick Rosenkranz, which was also sent to the entire student body. Peller’s email “is startlingly callous and insulting, not only to ‘[Scalia’s] memory but to those of us who admired him,” they wrote. “To hear from one’s colleagues, within hours of the death of a hero, mentor, and friend, that they resent any implication that they might mourn his death—that, in effect, they are glad he is dead—is simply cruel beyond words. …
“Only on a faculty with just two identifiably right-of-center professors out of 125, could a professor harbor such vitriol for a conservative justice that even Justice Ginsburg adored. … But make no mistake: Civil discourse at Georgetown has suffered a grievous blow. It is a time for mourning indeed.”
Above the Law published their full response here. Peller did send a personal email to Barnett apologizing for causing hurt.