Georgetown University Law Professors Slam Late Justice Antonin Scalia

February 23, 2016 Updated: February 23, 2016

A debate has erupted at Georgetown University’s Law School over late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently died.

The conservative justice was a graduate of the law school, leading the school to issue a laudatory memorial announcement.

“Scalia was a giant in the history of the law, a brilliant jurist whose opinions and scholarship profoundly transformed the law,” Dean William Treanor said in the announcement, noting that Scalia had returned to the school to talk and answer questions multiple times over the years.

“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. We will all miss him.”

But two professors took issue with the announcement. 

One of them, professor Mike Seidman, sent a letter to the faculty noting that he disagreed with the announcement but noting that “norms of civility preclude criticizing public figures immediately after their death.”

Some of the viewpoints expressed in the email exchange were disheartening for many in our membership.
— Black Law Students Association

However, two days later, professor Gary Peller decided it was time to criticize Scalia in an email to students and fellow faculty.

“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,” said the liberal professor.

“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.”

Another professor later echoed Peller’s thoughts, while several sent responses saying they admired Scalia.

The Black Law Students Association at Georgetown responded to the email debate between professors with a statement that said, “While we support an individual student’s choice to mourn, it must also be acknowledged that Justice Scalia’s legacy affects us in vastly different ways.”

“As a result, some of the viewpoints expressed in the email exchange were disheartening for many in our membership,” the group wrote in a post entitled, “An Open Letter to the Georgetown Law Community.”