For a Master Teacher, Study of Law is a Fitting Legacy

The late Justice Antonin Scalia has been described in many ways. But at Thursday’s dedication of the Antonin Scalia Law School, at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus, it was his impact on law students themselves that stood out most strongly.

Held in the foyer of Hazel Hall, the ceremony brought together an extraordinary collection of legal luminaries, friends, and members of the Scalia family, who remembered and honored the man and his remarkable influence on American jurisprudence. Six current Supreme Court justices attended together: Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

Justice Kagan, speaking on behalf of the Court, honored Scalia—known to friends as Nino—with warm and personal remarks. She began by noting that the name Antonin Scalia Law School “sounds a bit formal—I’m wondering if I can substitute the word Nino?” Justice Scalia, Kagan said, “will go down in history as one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever, and also one of the greatest.” She wryly recalled “his confidence in the manifest rightness of all his opinions.”

Then Kagan described his legacy as a master teacher:

“But there’s another reason George Mason couldn’t have selected a better name for its law school. And that’s because no one was more enthusiastic, more passionate, about connecting with law students than Justice Scalia. He visited and revisited law schools across the country to talk about ideas. …

“And now some of those students will look up and see Justice Scalia’s name on their law school’s building. What a great, great thing. Congratulations to George Mason University, and congratulations to the Nino Scalia Law School, for memorializing, for celebrating, this most remarkable judge and teacher.”

The renaming of the school was made possible by the largest gifts in the university’s history: a gift of $20 million from an anonymous donor, joined with an additional $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation. These gifts will fund scholarships for hundreds of law students over the next five years.

Rector Tom Davis focused on the importance of this to Mason’s law students, saying: “These scholarships, because of the generous donations [we celebrate] here today, are going to increase our reach and make Mason even more attractive. In my experience, students who get this kind of opportunity, make the most of it. This gift to our students is really a gift to our region.”

Also offering a tribute, and her thanks, was the late Justice’s daughter, Catherine Scalia Courtney, who is an administrative assistant and academic advisor at the university’s Volgenau School of Engineering. “I am proud to work at a university that honors the patriotic service and dedication of Justice Scalia,” Courtney said. “At heart he was always a teacher.”

“Our family never discussed namings or legacies before his unexpected death,” she continued, “but we know that he would be honored to have a law school, especially a public law school in the great commonwealth of Virginia, bear his name. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute.”

Other presenters at the dedication included John T. “Til” Hazel, Jr., who helped found the law school in the 1970s and after whom Hazel Hall is named; Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University; and the Honorable Donald W. Lemons, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The event was hosted by Dean Henry N. Butler of the law school. The invocation was offered by Father Paul Scalia, Justice Scalia’s son, who serves in the Catholic diocese of Arlington. The ceremony was also attended by the wife of the late Justice, Maureen Scalia, and several of the couple’s children and grandchildren.

October 7, 2016 / RR