Several University of Chicago Law School graduates have accused former law professor and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia of racist treatment toward his black students. In a statement the University of Chicago said it was saddened by the allegations but could not determine the truth of the allegations.
Scalia taught at the law school from 1977 to 1982 and was appointed to serve on the Supreme Court in 1986, where he was an important member of the Court’s conservative wing. He passed away the night of February 12 from natural causes.
In a post on Facebook, former UChicago Law student Arnim Johnson (J.D. ‘79) said he had encountered racism while in Scalia’s class.
“Scalia flunked every black student who took his classes that year. Nobody flunks courses in elite law schools. It’s unheard of,” Johnson wrote. “While I was there, Scalia was outed as a blatant racist to the extent that the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA) chapter at the law school brought it to the attention of acting Dean Norval Morris in several meetings.”
UChicago Law uses a system of blind exam testing, which supposedly prevents a student from being linked to their specific exam. Scalia would have to have subverted that system in order to change black students’ scores.
According to Johnson, Scalia’s desire to widen the gap between himself and blacks was an attempt to become the “all-American white man” and an “honorary member of the WASP elite.”
Other UChicago law students corroborated Johnson’s accusations against Scalia. In an interview for Gawker, Ben Streeter, an attorney with the Federal Election Commission and graduate of the UChicago Law School, stated that he observed Scalia’s preferential treatment of conservative white students.
According to Streeter, the final exam for Scalia’s administrative law class covered material that had not been discussed in class and that students would only have known had they spoken with Scalia outside of the classroom.
“In those days, the only students who came by to visit him were in the Federalist Society group,” Streeter said. “There was not a single black member of the Federalist Society in my three years at the U of C.”
The Federalist Society is a conservative and libertarian legal society that emphasizes constitutional legalism. The UChicago chapter of the Society was created in 1982 under Scalia’s supervision, several years after Streeter had graduated.
Philip Hampton, senior counsel at Haynes and Boone in Washington, D.C. and former president of BALSA, told Gawker that nearly every black student’s lowest grade was in Scalia’s class.
“I don’t think any black person got more than a C- from Scalia,” said Hampton. “Black students received Ds and Cs.”
A former student from the University of Virginia Law School claimed to have experienced similar racist treatment from Scalia.
Founder and managing editor of Above the Law, David Lat, who has personal ties to Scalia, released an article addressing his skepticism about these allegations. In addition to providing reasons why many of these accusations may not hold, Lat also stated that Scalia might have given better grades to students who were not black not because he was racist, but because they possessed views similar to his own.
“As anyone who has attended law school can tell you, some (I’d say many) professors give better grades to students who agree with them…And we also know that African-American students at Chicago Law during the Scalia period were not a conservative group,” Lat said. “It seems quite possible, then, that African-American students might have earned below-average grades in Professor Scalia’s courses simply because of their below-average level of agreement with his views as a professor. This would certainly be problematic—and to the extent that it still happens at law schools around the country, it remains problematic—but it’s a far cry from labeling Justice Scalia, whom I personally regard as a great justice and a gracious man, with the epithet of ‘racist.’”
A University of Chicago spokesperson released a statement to Gawker in response to the allegations against Scalia.
“We are saddened to hear of these allegations. Because of the length of time that has passed, and the fact that some of the individuals are either deceased or no longer work at the Law School, we are unable to comment on whether the allegations are true.
“The University of Chicago Law School embraces diversity as an integral part of our educational mission, and works to ensure that every student is treated fairly both inside and outside the classroom,” the statement said. “We would take extremely seriously any such allegation today, and our long-standing policy of blind-grading is intended to minimize the possibility of that kind of misconduct.”