Law school renamed after $30 million donation

(Photo credit: Fourth Estate archives)

by Matt Coyle

The George Mason University School of Law will be renamed in honor of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this year.

The university recently announced the name-change on Thursday after a combined $30 million donation, the largest donation ever to the university, which will provide three different scholarships for its law students.

Soon after the donation was announced, the Board of Visitors approved renaming the school to the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University.

This gift included $20 million from an anonymous donor who came to Leonard A. Leo of the Federalist Society, a personal friend of the late Justice Scalia and his family and asked that the school be renamed in honor of the late justice. The other $10 million is a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Mason President Ángel Cabrera said, “This is a milestone moment for the university. These gifts will create opportunities to attract and retain the best and brightest students, deliver on our mission of inclusive excellence, and continue our goal to make Mason one of the preeminent law schools in the country.”

Governor Terry McAuliffe showed his support of the school’s name-change as well.

However, opinions from students and the community show that not everyone is in favor of the school being renamed after Justice Scalia.

Virginia State Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) started a petition to stop the name change until students and members of the community have a chance to voice their opinions on the matter.

The petition states, “The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has to approve the change. If you agree that public comment and input from alumni and current students is important, sign this petition.  Let SCHEV, Governor McAuliffe, and Dr. Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, know where you stand. There is still time to make your voice heard.”

Mason students have also shared their discontent. Sophomore Oscar Markland said, “This decision happened so fast without input from the Mason students or the community. … it seems like the Federalist Society and the Charles Koch Foundation bought our Law school. In twenty or thirty years, I think the decisions of Justice Scalia will look very backwards. This is a man who was known for his opposition to gay rights, abortion and affirmative action.”

Scalia was known as a champion of originalism, a theory that the law should be interpreted based on what the founders of the Constitution intended when it was created, rather than viewing it as a living, changing document. This made him beloved among conservatives, but detested among liberals. This can be seen on Mason’s campus as students debate the decision, some opposing it while others embrace it.

“I was very pleased when I heard about the renaming. Mason had a large impact on the drafting of the Constitution, and Scalia was one of the most principled defenders of it in its original form. It’s a very fitting tribute,” said junior Blake Bauman.

Justice Scalia was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. He spoke at the dedication of the Mason School of Law building in 1999 and sometimes guest lectured at the university. He also lived in nearby McLean, Virginia.

The scholarships that will be offered are the Antonin Scalia Scholarship; the Linwood Holton, Jr. Leadership Scholarship; and the F.A. Hayek Law, Legislation, and Liberty Scholarship.

The Antonin Scalia Scholarship will be awarded to students who have excellent academic credentials. The Linwood Holton, Jr. Leadership Scholarship, named after the former Virginia governor, will be awarded to students who have overcome barriers to academic success, demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities or helped others overcome discrimination in any facet of life. The F.A. Hayek Law, Legislation, and Liberty Scholarship, named in honor of the 1974 Nobel Prize winner in economics Friedrich Hayek, will be awarded to students with a demonstrated interest in studying the application of economic principles to law.

(Read more: Mason faculty sign petition against law school name change)