OPINION: An Open Letter to GULC Professors: “Scaliagate” From a Student’s Perspective

Deborah Steinberg is a current 1L at Georgetown Law.  

As a proud millennial with the power of social media, I knew before the announcement from The New York Times that Justice Scalia passed away last week. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were covered in posts of mourning, posts of joy, and genuine inquiry into what was going to happen next. The majority of these posts came from my peers at Georgetown University Law Center.

Most of us did not even see Dean Treanor’s initial statement on the school’s website, as it was not sent to us directly and the majority of us do not regularly check the homepage. The first communication we got was the message from Professors Peller and Seidman. I logged into Facebook and saw a mix of reactions, ranging from “Who the hell are these guys?” to “Finally someone is speaking the truth!” Then we received the next email from Dean Treanor reaffirming his initial position. And then we received another email from more professors agreeing with him. Normally, I like getting email; but this was ridiculous.

I speak for myself and no other students. When Justice Scalia died I had many feelings all at once. I was excited that I might get more access to reproductive healthcare and that affirmative action could be maintained. I was deeply saddened by his passing as I had just lost my grandfather two weeks before and I could empathize with what his family must be going through. I was curious if President Obama would be able to get a nomination through the Republican Senate.

As more time passed, I started reflecting further. Justice Scalia is in every casebook that I own. We have talked about him in every class that I have taken. He is the voice of originalism, whether or not you believe he actually adheres to the theory. So I began to wonder what this would mean for my law school experience now that he was no longer alive. I was anxious to get back to school after the long weekend so we could actually talk about the implications of his death and how everyone else was feeling.

The emails we received from our professors completely silenced these conversations. I returned to class to discuss a case with a dissent from Scalia and neither the professor nor the students even brought up the fact that he had died. Everyone was so drained from this battle that we did not even begin to fight for ourselves. My Facebook feed is now covered with posts like “No one cares!” and “Why are we getting these emails?” What could have been a truly powerful teaching opportunity has become a sore subject among my friends that just makes us want to put our hands over our ears.

Anger and sadness are two of the most basic emotions. See e.g. Inside Out. Many of us probably felt both of them, and a hundred other emotions. The dichotomy created by the battle between the professors made it seem as though we had to react in one way or another, completely erasing the continuum of feelings in between. There is no right way to respond when someone dies. There is also no wrong way. Grief and anger are important. They teach us more about what we believe is right and wrong and ultimately they will guide us to become better lawyers and more importantly better human beings. We do not need people telling us how to feel or shaming us for feeling differently. We need our role models to be there for support and to challenge us.

Now is the time for learning. Just as you have expressed your feelings on the subject, let us express ours and validate them: all of them.

Interested in having your voice heard? Send your thoughts to the Editor in Chief at dan31@georgetown.edu.

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