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Scalia Law School Dedicated, With Kagan Singing Justice's Praises

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 07, 2016 11:57 AM

The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia was officially dedicated yesterday, as a host of Supreme Court justices, academics, and family members gathered together to celebrate the late justice.

Justice Scalia was known publicly for his conservatism, and strict textualism and originalism, and his acerbic dissents, but he was also a frequent face at law schools throughout the country. It was appropriate, then, that the dedication featured his colleague, Justice Elana Kagan, a former dean of Harvard Law School herself. Describing the late justice as a "remarkable judge and teacher," she recounted how Justice Scalia could "grab hold of students, shake them and turn them upside down solely by means of his written opinions."

Justice Scalia's Lasting Impact

Though Justices Scalia and Kagan were often at odds over the law, Justice Kagan lauded Scalia's impact on the legal profession and on law students. As Dean of Harvard Law, Kagan said, "I had the good fortune to host the justice several times and those days were among the most fun I ever had as dean." Scalia was not afraid to show "his brilliance, his wit, his good cheer, and, well, let's say his confidence in the manifest rightness of all his opinions."

Justice Scalia's impact on the law will not be soon forgotten, Kagan reminded the audience, which included Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Sotomayor, along with members of Justice Scalia's family. "He'll go down in history as one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever, and also one of the greatest," Kagan said.

"In reading a statute, does anyone now decline to focus first on its text and context?" she asked. "When addressing constitutional meaning, does anyone ignore the founders' commitments?"

"If the answer is no -- and the answer is no, or mostly no -- Justice Scalia deserves much of the credit," she said. "And that is a legacy worthy of a law school dedication."

A Controversial Renaming

The Scalia Law School was announced just over six months ago, shortly after Justice Scalia's passing. The name change came about due to a $30 million donation from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous donor.

But the Scalia School of Law wasn't the first name picked. The school had originally planned on being renamed the Antonin Scalia School of Law, which commentators noted carried the unfortunate acronym of ASS Law. After a few days of widespread mockery, the University adjusted the name.

Some were also concerned that the renaming would tie an already conservative law school too closely to one brand of legal thought. Others complained that the Koch Foundation's donation allowed private interests to exercise too much influence over Virginia's largest public university.

Those concerns weren't on display during the dedication ceremony, however. Instead, above the speakers who had gathered heaped universal praise on Justice Scalia, beneath the late justice's portrait and an amusing quotation from the justice himself:

I am something of a contrarian, I suppose. I feel less comfortable when everybody agrees with me. I say, 'I better reexamine my position.'

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