Georgetown Law School issued a press release in observation of the recent death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, headlined “Georgetown Law Mourns the Loss of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.” The release quoted law school dean William M. Treanor, as saying, “Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law.”
But not everyone at Georgetown Law subscribes to the old principle De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum, Professor Gary Peller dissented via a mass emailing, and an article attacking the legacy of Scalia in Tikkun. (His email was appended to the Tikkun article).
Peller said (in part):
I was put-off by the invocation of the â€œGeorgetown Communityâ€ in the press release that Dean Treanor issued Saturday. I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, 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 â€œcommunityâ€ 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 â€œculture warsâ€ he often invoked. In my mind, he was not a â€œgiantâ€ in any good sense.
Two more conservative law professors, Randy Barnett and Nick Rosenkranz, responded waggishly, employing the “trigger warning” and “safe space” rhetoric of the left to turn the tables on Professor Peller.
For oneâ€™s colleagues to write, within hours of the death of someone one knows, likes, and admires, that he was a â€œdefender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic,â€ is startlingly callous and insulting, not only to his memory but to those of us who admired him. To hear from oneâ€™s colleagues, within hours of the death of a hero, mentor, and friend, that they resent any implication that they might mourn his death â€” that, in effect, they are glad he is dead â€“ is simply cruel beyond words. But, though the insult and cruelty of our colleagues was grievous, at least only two of us had to bear it.
Unfortunately, the next day, recognizing full well that he would â€œcause â€¦ hurt [to] those with affection for J. Scalia,â€ and in violation of Georgetown email policy, Prof. Peller forwarded his email and Prof. Seidmanâ€™s to the entire student body at Georgetown Law, some 2000 students. Of those, at least a few hundred are conservative or libertarian. These students received an email yesterday, from a Georgetown Law professor, just three days after the death of Justice Scalia, which said, in effect, your hero was a stupid bigot and we are not sad that he is dead.
Although this email was upsetting to us, we could only imagine what it was like for these students. Some of them are twenty-two year-old 1Ls, less than six months into their legal education. But we did not have to wait long to find out. Leaders of the Federalist Society chapter and of the student Republicans reached out to us to tell us how traumatized, hurt, shaken, and angry, were their fellow students. Of particular concern to them were the students who are in Professor Pellerâ€™s class who must now attend class knowing of his contempt for Justice Scalia and his admirers, including them. How are they now to participate freely in class? What reasoning would be deemed acceptable on their exams?
Hat tip to Matt MacLean.