Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Respect Donor Intent

Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Respect Donor Intent

Oct 05, 2020 Joanne Florino

I have spent a good deal of time over the past two years writing about donor intent—the good, the bad, the ugly, and occasionally the very ugly. But last week’s suggestion from a member of the House of Representatives to rename the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University adds a new twist to donor intent lore, bringing us into the realm of the just plain silly. 

On September 30, TaxProf Blog mentioned that Congressman Gerald E. “Gerry” Connolly (D-VA) had issued a statement asking the GMU administration to rename the school the Scalia-Ginsburg School of Law. This change, Rep. Connolly noted, “honors the bequest (sic) but adds the balance in jurisprudence the current name lacks.” What he completely ignores, of course, are the wishes of the donors who—following Justice Scalia’s death in 2016—collectively donated $30 million toward new law school scholarships and requested that the school be named for the late justice.  

The wishes of those donors reflected their respect for Justice Scalia, of course, but they also honored the personal relationship he had developed with the law school at GMU. He spoke at the dedication ceremony after the law school was built in 1999 and served as a guest lecturer in the following years. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself understood that the school being named for her dear friend was felicitous. "It is a tribute altogether fitting that George Mason University’s law school will bear his name," she said. "May the funds for scholarships, faculty growth, and curricular development aid the Antonin Scalia School of Law to achieve the excellence characteristic of Justice Scalia, grand master in life and law." 

Rep. Connolly’s worthy desire to honor Justice Ginsburg would be more appropriately satisfied by rallying his political donors to come up with $30 million and then approaching the three as-yet-unnamed law schools in the District of Columbia (Georgetown, George Washington, and Howard) or—even better, the unnamed law schools of the three universities Justice Ginsburg attended (Cornell, Harvard, and Columbia). He may, however, first want to read The Philanthropy Roundtable’s new guidebook on donor intent.