In the fall of 2017, an administrator at George Mason University’s law school circulated a confidential memo about a prospective hire.
Just months earlier, Neil M. Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado, had won confirmation to the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia, the conservative icon for whom the school was named. For President Donald J. Trump, bringing Judge Gorsuch to Washington was the first step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to cement the high court unassailably on the right. For the leaders of the law school, bringing the new justice to teach at Scalia Law was a way to advance their own parallel ambition.
“Establishing and building a strong relationship with Justice Gorsuch during his first full term on the bench could be a game-changing opportunity for Scalia Law, as it looks to accelerate its already meteoric rise to the top rank of law schools in the United States,” read the memo, contained in one of thousands of internal university emails obtained by The New York Times.
By the winter of 2019, the law school faculty would include not just Justice Gorsuch but also two other members of the court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett M. Kavanaugh — all deployed as strategic assets in a campaign to make Scalia Law, a public school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, a Yale or Harvard of conservative legal scholarship and influence.
The 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. [Continue reading…]