News & Politics

George Mason University Will Name Its Law School After Antonin Scalia

Photograph via US Mission in Geneva.

George Mason University renamed its law school after late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on Thursday, a result of a $30 million gift from multiple donors.

The move had been reported earlier by NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, and became a bit more official when Richard Kelsey, an assistant dean at the 500-student law school in Arlington, tweeted before the formal announcement:

Along with the renaming, the law school—now the Antonin Scalia School of Law—also announced $30 million in contributions from two donors. The larger donation is a $20 million gift from an anonymous giver who approached GMU through the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization of which Scalia was a patron saint. The other $10 million comes from the Charles Koch Foundation

The gift was conditional on renaming the school after Scalia, Dean Henry Butler, tells Washingtonian. Butler first approached the Koch Foundation asking if they’d donate the entire $30 million. The Kochs declined, but offered a “challenge gift” of $10 million if Butler could find the other $20 million. The Federalist Society-affiliated donor who gave the $20 million tied it to dedicating the law school in Scalia’s name.

The $30 million will endow three new scholarship programs, one of which will be named after Scalia himself. Another will be named after the 20th-century economist Friedrich Hayek. Butler says between 50 and 60 scholarships will be awarded each year. The money will also be used to hire as many as 12 new professors to the current faculty of 35.

The Koch Foundation has previously made other large donations to parts of GMU, including the Mercatus Center, an economic think tank that specializes in free-market policies. The university has previously been listed as the top recipient of higher-education donations from the Koch Foundation.

President Obama has nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to replace Scalia, but the Republicans who control the Senate have said repeatedly they have no intention of giving Garland a hearing. Judicial Crisis Network, one of the nonprofit organizations running advertisements against Garland’s confirmation, has financial ties to Charles and David Koch.

That things would be renamed for Scalia, who died last month after more than 29 years on the Supreme Court bench, is not surprising. But the speed at which it has happened is a bit surprising. It comes 47 days after Scalia died of natural causes during a Texas hunting trip. The last university to rename its law school after a Supreme Court justice was Arizona State University, which renamed its College of Law after Sandra Day O’Connor nine months after she announced her plans to retire and 65 days after her successor, Samuel Alito, had been confirmed.

But Scalia is a good name to slap on GMU’s law school. Like the much of the university, the law school has well-known libertarian and conservative streaks. Several of its professors wrote tributes to the late justice, and it is often considered to have one of the most conservative-leaning faculties of any law school. Scalia also had ties to the law school. Besides living in nearby McLean, Scalia was an occasional guest lecturer and also gave the keynote address when school’s current building opened in 1999.

“When I was announced as dean [last summer] I got a nice letter from him,” Butler says.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.