Above the Law reports:
At Georgetown University Law Center, controversy has broken out over the law school’s press release, Georgetown Law Mourns the Loss of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It went out on Saturday, February 13, the day that Justice Scalia’s death made the news. After the long weekend, on Tuesday, February 16, two longtime professors at Georgetown, Gary Peller and Louis Michael Seidman, basically issued a dissent (originally sent just to Dean William Treanor and the faculty, then later cleared for dissemination to the student body):
Mike Seidman to Dean Treanor and faculty:
Our norms of civility preclude criticizing public figures immediately after their death. 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.
Gary Peller, originally to Dean Treanor and faculty:
Dean Treanor, Staff, Students, and Colleagues:
Like Mike Seidman, I also was put-off by the invocation of the “Georgetown Community” 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.
Professor Peller’s statement goes on to say that Justice Scalia “was not a legal figure to be lionized or emulated by our students,” saying that he “bullied lawyers, trafficked in personal humiliation of advocates, and openly sided with the party of intolerance in the ‘culture wars’ he often invoked…. I don’t want to teach our students to hold someone like Scalia in reverence because he’s a ‘Supreme Court Justice.'”
(The statement goes on for quite a bit; read it in full on the next page.)
As noted by Blake Neff of the Daily Caller, “It’s hardly surprising that Peller cares little for Scalia. Peller’s own academic work is rooted in critical race theory and critical legal studies, two fields that can only be described as solidly on the political left. A major part of Peller’s work is denying the very existence of objective knowledge or the value of concepts like rationality, on the grounds that knowledge is just ‘a function of the ability of the powerful to impose their own views.'”
It might not be surprising, but it is disappointing. I’m with Jill Switzer aka Old Lady Lawyer, who has called for civility in the wake of Justice Scalia’s passing: “What do we, as lawyers, do to model collegial behavior? We can talk about ‘civility’ and ‘professionalism’ ad nauseam, but unless we practice what we preach, those terms are just words, and we’re very good with words.”
Law professors aren’t ordinary lawyers; as educators, they have a special duty to demonstrate to their students the values of collegiality, professionalism, and respect for differing viewpoints. As one Georgetown Law source put it, “This is not what admitted students want to see when deciding between Georgetown and other T14 schools. An intolerant professor lecturing on the intolerance of a Justice."
At the risk of being uncivil myself (my views on civility are here, FWIW), suffice it to say that having been a student of Peller's at Virginia I am not surprised by his rude, callous, and self-centered attitude. When I was in his class, he was a far left radical who put political correctness ahead of human decency. He was openly intolerant of opposing views and dismissive (at best) of any disagreement. On top of which, when it came to his comments about conservatives or people of faith, he epitomized what the left now calls micro-aggressions.
So I am glad to see the lone conservatives at Georgetown (a school notorious for its disdain for conservatives and intellectual diversity) fighting back:
But two of GULC’s leading (and only) right-of-center voices, Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranzand Randy E. Barnett, decided to take a more aggressive approach. And it seems that Georgetown believes in the “equal time” doctrine — last night at around eleven o’clock, their vigorous rebuttal got blasted out to the entire student body as well.
The professors begin by sharing warm memories of their interactions with Justice Scalia, like the time that Professor Rosenkranz sang “Oh, Danny Boy” with the justice, or the time that Professor Barnett had the justice as a guest in a 22-student seminar. After recounting the blow-by-blow of the press release issuance and the faculty email back and forth about it, they criticize their liberal colleagues for reacting insensitively to Justice Scalia’s passing:
For one’s colleagues to write, within hours of the death of someone one knows, likes, and admires, that he was a “defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic,” is startlingly callous and insulting, not only to his memory but to those of us who admired him. 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. 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 “cause … hurt [to] those with affection for J. Scalia,” ... Prof. Peller forwarded his email and Prof. Seidman’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.
Professors Barnett and Rosenkranz then discuss how students were affected by the mass dissemination of the Peller and Seidman messages:
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 Peller’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?
This raises broader concerns, of course, about intellectual diversity — or the lack thereof — within the legal academy:
There are some people on earth who should not be mourned when they die. Adolf Hitler was such a person. Justice Scalia was not. (See, for example, the moving tributes by Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)
The problem is that the center of gravity of legal academia is so far to the left edge of the political spectrum that some have lost the ability to tell the difference. 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.
Here’s how Professors Barnett and Rosenkranz conclude:
Sadly, as just two professors on a faculty of 125, we are in no position to offer much reassurance to our students, beyond reporting that we have heard on the faculty email list, and privately, from a few of our Georgetown colleagues who objected to these messages. All we can do, really, is convey our solidarity with our wonderful students. We share your pain. We share your anger. We stand with you. You are not alone. Be strong as Justice Scalia was strong. Remember, he heard far worse about himself than we have, and yet never wavered in both his convictions and his joy for life.
But make no mistake: Civil discourse at Georgetown has suffered a grievous blow. It is a time for mourning indeed.
These are just excerpts from a much longer message, which you can (and should) read in full on the next page. It’s eloquent and persuasive, in my view.
I agree. It's highly persuasive and far more compelling than Peller's hate-filled screed. It's also a damning indictment of the liberal bias in law school hiring, which has produced so many faculties on which Peller and Siedman's ilk vastly outnumber conservative voices.