Will Liberals’ Posthumous Smears of Justice Scalia Succeed?

George Mason University’s law school was founded in 1979. Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at the dedication of the law school’s current building in 1999 and was a guest lecturer at the university. The law school developed a plan to expand its faculty and scholarship program, and in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, an anonymous donor offered $20 million to fund those programs. The Charles Koch Foundation added a $10 million pledge for the same purposes. The plan developed by the law school included renaming the law school The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University.

On March 31, George Mason announced the $30 million in gifts, which it said would fund, among other things, three sets of scholarships:

* The Antonin Scalia Scholarship, to be awarded to students with excellent academic credentials.

* The Linwood Holton, Jr. Leadership Scholarship, named in honor of a former governor of Virginia, to be awarded to students who have overcome barriers to academic success, demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities, or have helped others overcome discrimination in any facet of life.

* The F.A. Hayek Law, Legislation, and Liberty Scholarship, named in honor of the Nobel Prize winner in economics, to be awarded to students who have demonstrated an interest in studying the application of economic principles to the law.

Just about everyone hailed these gifts as a milestone in George Mason’s history and endorsed the plan to rename the law school in Scalia’s honor. The law school’s Board of Visitors approved the plan, and Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Terry McAuliffe, welcomed the gifts enthusiastically. The law school’s faculty and dean agreed to the plan; Dean Henry Butler said, “Justice Scalia’s name evokes the very strengths of our school: civil liberties, law and economics, and constitutional law.” Two former Solicitors General, one Democrat and one Republican, endorsed the plan in the Washington Post.

Justice Scalia’s long-time colleague on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, found the tribute fitting:

Justice Scalia was a law teacher, public servant, legal commentator, and jurist nonpareil. As a colleague who held him in highest esteem and great affection, I miss his bright company and the stimulus he provided, his opinions ever challenging me to meet his best efforts with my own. It is a tribute altogether fitting that George Mason University’s law school will bear his name. May the funds for scholarships, faculty growth, and curricular development aid the Antonin Scalia School of Law to achieve the excellence characteristic of Justice Scalia, grand master in life and law.

But leftists at George Mason tried to organize opposition to acceptance of the gifts and naming of the law school in Scalia’s honor. On April 27, George Mason’s faculty Senate debated a non-binding resolution to condemn the renaming of the law school. A number of Senators denounced Scalia as a racist and homophobe–in modern discourse, terms of denunciation rather than description. They cited no evidence to support their charges, and when a professor at the law school, Lloyd Cohen, defended Scalia against their smears, they shouted him down. Cohen described his experience in the Wall Street Journal.

Who are these anti-free speech, anti-Scalia zealots? Not law professors. Chris Adams identified them at PJ Media. They are typical academic brownshirts. The leader of the opposition movement is a “cultural studies professor” who engages in “community organizing around housing access, social movements for trans justice and prison abolition, and queer anarchist anti-war activism.” Naturally, he is also the faculty adviser to GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid. The others are of the same sort.

Sadly, GMU’s Faculty Senate passed the resolution opposing acceptance of the gifts and renaming of the law school.

The law school’s proposal is now being reviewed by the body with ultimate authority, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The Council has 13 members, appointed to staggered terms by the Governor of Virginia. Today, SCHEV’s Academic Affairs committee will review the law school’s proposal and make a recommendation to the Council. The full SCHEV Council is expected to vote on the proposal on Tuesday.

It is hard to imagine that SCHEV will fail to approve acceptance of $30 million in gifts and renaming of the school. After all, there is nothing unusual about law schools commemorating eminent jurists. Law schools have been named after John Marshall, Salmon P. Chase, Benjamin Cardozo, Louis Brandeis, Thurgood Marshall and Sandra O’Connor. Dozens of other law schools are named after lesser legal lights, or donors.

But Antonin Scalia is different: he was a conservative. America’s Left is attempting not just to win arguments with conservatives–actually, they hardly ever do that–but to delegitimize conservatives and conservative ideas. They want to portray conservatism as beyond the pale, and blocking public recognition of conservatives is part of their strategy. This is why liberals object to hospitals, arts organizations and universities accepting grants from David and Charles Koch, who are among the world’s foremost philanthropists. This is why conservative speakers are routinely shouted down, or prevented from appearing at all, on university campuses. This, too, is why leftists organize boycotts of states that enact legislation they don’t like, and of those few companies that contribute to conservative causes.

In the case of George Mason’s law school, the leftists will probably fail. But in the meantime, they have viciously smeared one of America’s most influential legal scholars. They have turned what should have been a touching, rewarding moment for his family into a vicious political controversy. And they have reminded all of us that any attempt to recognize the achievements of a conservative will be deemed controversial.


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