UPDATE: According to Above the Law, Professor Peller sent an email, “Mitigating Defamatory Assertions,” to all faculty, insisting that his initial message was not in violation of the Campus Broadcast policy. He revealed that he had communicated with Professor Barnett on the charge. The latest communication, sent by an faculty member, replies “Please, please, PLEASE stop. At the very least, please omit me from further communications.”
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Saturday, February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas. Almost immediately, tributes poured out (including one from our Sports Editor) and controversy erupted over the man and his inevitable successor to the nation’s highest court. Controversy of a different sort broke out among Georgetown Law’s faculty as well.
It all started for Georgetown Law students with an e-mail sent on Tuesday afternoon, while students were enjoying a few days off and faculty were participating in the annual Faculty Retreat. The Campus Broadcast system, usually used for event announcements, invitations and policy changes, delivered the message from Professors Gary Peller and Mike Seidman to all members of the student body.
Entitled “Responses to Dean Treanor’s Press Release Regarding Justice Scalia,” the message contained a rebuke to the press release issued by Dean William Treanor upon Scalia’s passing. Peller’s statement reads
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.
The authors took particular issue with the notion of the entire community in mourning. “That ‘community’ would never have claimed that our entire community mourns the loss of J. Scalia, nor contributed to his mystification without regard for the harm and hurt he inflicted.”
Dean Treanor responded with another e-mail, titled “Justice Scalia,” sent Wednesday afternoon He further explained his personal relationship with Justice Scalia, who had visited and spoken to the 1L class this past Fall.
I issued a statement on Saturday saying that the law school community mourned the Justice’s death. As you may know, some faculty have disagreed with my statement. I am writing now to reaffirm my belief that this a time for us to mourn. Justice Scalia was an individual who provoked strong and divergent views; the debate about his legacy is long-standing, and it will continue for many years. But this moment is a moment of grief. It is a time of loss and a time when many in our community are in pain. It is a time for mourning.
The dispute began to trickle onto legal news sites, including Above the Law. The original press release, Peller and Seidman’s response, and Dead Treanor’s response can be read in their entirety here, via Above the Law.
On Wednesday evening, students received a further Campus Broadcast e-mail from Professors Randy Barnett and Nick Rosenkranz, titled “An Open Letter to the Georgetown Law Community.” This message provided a lengthy counter to Peller and Seidman’s statement, noting the policy governing use of campus e-mail broadcasts.
The professors began by sharing their interactions with Justice Scalia, and accused their coworkers of insensitivity. Barnett and Rosenkranz shared a private apology that Peller had sent Barnett , and they both criticized the nature and timing of Peller’s broadcast message.
Now, as a right-leaning professors in legal academia, we have developed quite thick skin. We had to. We would have thought that we were inured to this sort of thing. Yet we admit that we found these emails deeply upsetting. They caught us in a moment of particular weakness and vulnerability.
The letter goes on to share that “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.” The professors also raised concerns about professorial bias in class, the left-of-center nature of academia, and freedom of speech.
“Civil discourse at Georgetown has suffered a grievous blow. It is a time for mourning indeed,” the message concluded.
Rachel Morris, Student Bar Association President, issued a statement in mourning of Justice Scalia as a part of the weekly SBA Update e-mail. It did not address the controversy directly, but it did cite Dean Treanor’s statement and sentiment.
As of the time of publication, there have been no further Campus Broadcasts or statements from the Dean. However, students on campus noticed a security guard posted outside of Professor Peller’s class Thursday afternoon.