Paul L. Caron

Monday, May 1, 2023

NY Times: How Scalia Law School Became A Key Friend Of The Court

New York Times, How Scalia Law School Became a Key Friend of the Court:

George Mason Scalia (2020)The school cultivated ties to justices, with generous pay and unusual perks. In turn, it gained prestige, donations and influence. ...

[George Mason] law school had long stood out for its rightward leanings and ties to conservative benefactors. Its renaming after Justice Scalia in 2016 was the result of a $30 million gift brokered by Leonard Leo, prime architect of a grand project then gathering force to transform the federal judiciary and further the legal imperatives of the right. An ascendant law school at George Mason would be part of that plan.

Since the rebranding, the law school has developed an unusually expansive relationship with the justices of the high court — welcoming them as teachers but also as lecturers and special guests at school events. Scalia Law, in turn, has marketed that closeness with the justices as a unique draw to prospective students and donors.

The Supreme Court assiduously seeks to keep its inner workings, and the justices’ lives, shielded from view, even as recent revelations and ethical questions have brought calls for greater transparency. Yet what emerges from the trove of documents is a glimpse behind the Supreme Court curtain, revealing one particular version of the favored treatment the justices often receive from those seeking to get closer to them.

The documents show how Scalia Law has offered the justices a safe space in a polarized Washington — an academic cocoon filled with friends and former clerks, where their legal views are celebrated, they are given top pay and treated to teaching trips abroad, and their personal needs are anticipated, from lunch orders to, in Justice Gorsuch’s case, house hunting.

By law, justices may earn outside income from a limited number of sources: book advances and royalties, investments, and teaching. The judicial code of conduct specifically encourages teaching. Many justices have augmented their government salaries, which now hover beneath $300,000, by holding classes at schools including Harvard, Duke and Notre Dame.

But Scalia Law quickly moved to the front of the line, in part by offering generous benefits. ...

“When a justice is with us, we do everything we can to engage the justice with our students,” the law school’s dean, Ken Randall, said in a statement. He added, “Law schools serve students, and their education is undoubtedly enhanced by the justices teaching or visiting or speaking with students.” ...

Some of the records reviewed by The Times were obtained through a public-records request, which the university fulfilled only after the court was allowed to review the documents. Many of them were held back or arrived heavily redacted. In a statement, Scalia Law said the court had been consulted for security reasons. (In addition, The Times examined records obtained years ago by the activist group UnKoch My Campus.)

By any number of metrics, Scalia Law’s closeness to the justices has coincided with a striking upswing in its fund-raising and academic standing. The number of graduates receiving prestigious clerkships has steadily increased, and that has helped the school attract higher-caliber students. Scalia Law is now tied for 30th place in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, a big jump in a relatively short time. In the process, it has become something of a hub of conservative legal thought, and legal society, in the capital.

Scalia Law has hit its stride in part by capitalizing on the conservative outcry against “woke” elite institutions of higher education. Having a robust conservative alternative like Scalia Law “adds to the debate,” said C. Boyden Gray, a major donor to the school who held senior positions in both Bush administrations. “It is very healthy.”

Yet to a lesser degree, the school has also been able to entice the court’s liberals: Justice Elena Kagan, who has called for the court’s conservative and liberal wings to rediscover “common ground,” joined Justice Gorsuch as a distinguished guest when he taught his summer course in Iceland in 2021. Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke on a Scalia Law panel with him the same year.

In late 2019, Justice Kagan emailed a George Mason professor who had clerked for Justice Thomas. “George Mason,” she wrote, “seems a really good place to be.” ...

Founded only in the 1970s, the law school had carved out a distinctive place on the right flank of legal academia. Its Law & Economics Center, devoted to one of the pillars of conservative legal thought — the idea that courts must consider the economic impact of the law — had offered training to more than 5,000 federal and state judges. Among the school’s most prominent alumni — indeed its only Supreme Court clerk — was William Consovoy, who had helped persuade the high court to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

For all that, a year after Mr. Butler took over as dean in 2015, the law school’s U.S. News ranking dropped to 45th. “Falling out of the top 50,” administrators wrote, “would be a disaster from which the law school would have a very difficult time recovering.”

By then, Mr. Butler had turned to Mr. Leo for help. He was a rising power in the conservative ecosphere, helping to steer money to advance the Federalist Society’s mission of filling the courts with judges who would interpret the Constitution according to the founders’ intentions. In September 2015, the dean sent Mr. Leo a five-year plan rooted in their shared belief that opportunity, and a deep well of donor money, lay in doubling down on the law school’s efforts to become an alternative to the left-leaning institutions that ruled the rankings.

Scalia Law, Mr. Leo wrote in response to questions from The Times, “is a model for what legal education should be in our country — grounded in objective analysis and truth-seeking, respect for the Constitution, and civility and balanced dialogue.”

The windfall, and the way forward, came quickly. About two weeks after Justice Scalia’s death on a Texas hunting trip in February 2016, Mr. Butler and Mr. Leo struck a $30 million deal with donors to rename the school for him.

Ten million dollars came from the Charles Koch Foundation; the balance, the school explained, came from an anonymous donor who had approached Mr. Leo. (The benefactor is widely believed to be Barre Seid, an electronics manufacturing mogul and conservative donor who would later make an extraordinary $1.6 billion contribution to a political group controlled by Mr. Leo.) ...

The renaming would be a bridge to the court.

At the morning dedication ceremony on Oct. 6, Justice Kagan spoke on behalf of the court. In addition to the Union Station dinner, Mr. Leo hosted a private luncheon for justices and other V.I.P.s, offering vegetarian or lobster risotto. (“Lobster is great,” the future Justice Kavanaugh wrote, emailing his menu choice.)

In all, the school collected at least $750,000 that day, records show. Seven justices — all but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — attended some portion of the festivities. ...

Other law schools have hosted justices on expenses-paid trips abroad. New York University, for example, sent Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor to a conference in Portugal in 2019, though they did not receive teaching salaries. In 2016, Tulane paid Justice Alito to teach in Berlin and Paris, according to his disclosure from that year, and covered his expenses. Notre Dame, which counts Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a longtime faculty member, has recently been vying for the court’s attention, sending Justice Alito to Rome and Justice Kavanaugh to London.

But judicial ethics guidelines require only that the justices make note that such travel took place; they do not have to disclose how much their flights, lodging and meals cost. ...

Together with the name change, the court’s connection to the school has been felt in the money flowing from conservative donor networks.

In fiscal year 2019, Mr. Butler reported a record fund-raising haul of more than $60 million; of that, $50 million came in a bequest from the Rouse family, major conservative donors. Fund-raising has remained strong — $22.5 million in 2021. ...

In 2016, the year of the name change, only one graduate received a circuit court clerkship. And the school had not had a Supreme Court clerk since Mr. Consovoy, who worked for Justice Thomas during the 2008-09 term. (Mr. Consovoy died this year.)

But as the Trump administration, guided by Mr. Leo of the Federalist Society, began to remake the federal judiciary, Scalia Law made it a priority to establish clerkship pipelines. As one professor wrote, “We are hoping to place Scalia Law Alumni who are current members of our Fed Soc student chapter, alumni who were active in Fed Soc, and other Scalia Law conservative and libertarian alums in federal clerkships.”

Since the rebranding, the numbers have steadily risen. In 2021, Scalia Law placed 10 alumni in circuit court clerkships. (More were hired for the district courts; the school celebrated that overall success with a news release headlined “Lucky 21 in 2021!”) Last year, eight graduates secured federal circuit court clerkships, and, for the first time, two were hired by Supreme Court justices.

“While schools like Harvard and Yale still have the best placement in elite jobs and federal clerkships, George Mason has been punching above its weight,” said Derek Muller, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law who studies legal education and employment outcomes.

All but a handful of Scalia Law’s recent elite clerkships were with judges appointed by Republican presidents. Indeed, clerkships have become a battleground in the ideological warfare over legal scholarship. Two prominent circuit court judges have recently vowed to push back at “cancel culture” by rejecting clerkship applicants from Yale and Stanford.

Mr. Butler once said, “We’re not going to apologize for using our connections” to help students win clerkships.

Josh Blackman (South Texas; Google Scholar), The New York Times Uncovered The Worst-Kept Secret In Academia:

Summer study-abroad programs are cushy vacations for students and boondoggles to attract elite faculty.


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