Georgetown Law Can't Handle Scalia's Death -- or Even Email

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 23, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Well, add these two things to the list of things Georgetown Law simply cannot do: one, note the passing of a Supreme Court justice and two, use email.

That much was proven last week when something as simple as a quick "in memoriam" press release following Justice Scalia's passing quickly devolved into a competition between Georgetown Law professors to see who could be the most petulant and obnoxious. And, of course, the real victims were the poor law students, caught in the midst of GULC's reply-all Armageddon.

Screaming During a Moment of Silence

It all started when Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor released a statement following Justice Scalia's death. (Scalia had more than just a passing connection to Georgetown. He attended the school for undergrad and would frequently return there to speak.) It was pretty much boilerplate, as these things go, noting Scalia's "involvement with our community" and extoling his influence on the law. It ended with a simple sentence: "We will all miss him."

That was too much for some Georgetown professors. Professors Mike Seidman and Gary Peller objected to the idea that the whole "Georgetown Community" might have something nice to say about the Justice. Professor Seidman was oblique, noting the general rule that one waits 'til the body is in the ground before pissing on the grave.

Professor Peller was less so, calling out the "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."

Dissenting from a memorial might be a curiously appropriate way to remember Justice Scalia, but the tactlessness of the email still makes us cringe. Certainly, public figures like Scalia are not immune from criticism, even on the eve of their passing. And there's plenty of appropriate criticism of Scalia out there. (Here's a great round-up.)

But most of those critics refrain from adopting a tone of "I, for one, celebrate this d-bag's death!" And they certainly don't forward that criticism to the entire law school student body.

You've Traumatized Me

But bad taste isn't traumatic -- except, perhaps, unless you're one of Professors Seidman and Peller's conservative colleagues or a Georgetown student. (As if being at the bottom of the T14 wasn't traumatic enough!)

Professors Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz and Randy E. Barnett issued their own stern dissent to the dissent. After recounting found memories of the justice and condemning the other emails, the professors tread very close to "trigger warning" territory, something much more closely associated with political correct undergrad liberal activists than conservative law professors:

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. Of particular concern to them were the students who are in Professor Peller's class who must now attend class knowing of his contempt for Justice Scalia and his admirers, including them. How are they now to participate freely in class? What reasoning would be deemed acceptable on their exams?

In sum: two professors feel the need to tell all of Georgetown that they do not feel bad about Justice Scalia's death. Two more professors feel the need to tell all of Georgetown just how bad not feeling bad makes Georgetown students feel. And the emails spiral out from there.

In the end, the only people who come out looking good were the level headed students who eventually shut down the emails by begging their professors to simply "please, please, PLEASE stop."

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