At its best, law school teaches you how to think—not what to think. There is no place for received wisdom. There are no sacred cows. Law students, accordingly, should be consumed by doubt. Whether the field of study is the common law, statutory law, or constitutional law, each student must decide for himself whether the prevailing regime can claim the consent of the governed. Whether it is sensible. Whether it is just. The educator’s task is to challenge students to resolve these questions for themselves. That does not mean, however, that the student’s assertions will go unchallenged. Quite the opposite. Rigorous legal training requires the student to put himself in harm’s way. You have to bring it.
As a graduate of the George Mason University School of Law, I believe I was fortunate enough to receive such an education. That is one of many reasons why I was thrilled to learn of the decision to name the school in Justice Scalia’s honor. No Justice—indeed, no lawyer—better exemplifies this noble tradition. Antonin Scalia stood up for what he believed in without apology. From the outset of his legal career, to his time in the academy, through government service, and during his career on the bench, Justice Scalia challenged convention. Courts should interpret statutes for what they say—not for what the drafters meant for them to say. Separation of powers is essential to tripartite government. The People—not judges—should create new substantive rights. Justice Scalia won some of these battles. He lost some too. Others are being fought still. But that came with the territory. For him, it always seemed that the glory of the law was in the contest of ideas. In getting it right.
Justice Scalia’s opinions are the law student’s inheritance. That was the audience for whom he wrote. The case books are rightfully filled with his big majority decisions, the concurrences that rejuvenated an overlooked principle, and, of course, the memorable dissents. Students willing to engage his opinions may discover, as did I, the foundation for their own approach to the law. Others may find the well-articulated vision of the worthy opponent. In all events, students will be confronted with ideas that cannot be ignored. Yet it is unclear whether forcing students to confront bold ideas—especially unpopular ideas—remains the principle mission of modern legal education. Far too often, conformity rules the day. But not at Antonin Scalia Law School. We read the majorities and the dissents. And then we debate. Usually with civility. Raucously on occasion. But always candidly. And always on the merits. I hope that makes the Scalia family nearly as proud to be associated with us as we are to be associated with them.