Charles Koch and his brother David are among the leading funders of conservative causes and organizations. The Kochs also have a long history of supporting George Mason University (GMU). Based in Fairfax, Virginia, outside Washington, GMU has been among the largest recipients of funds from the Charles Koch Foundation. One analysis found that nearly $80 million in Koch money flowed to GMU and affiliated centers between 2005 and 2014.
If you're familiar with the scale of higher ed giving, that's hardly an extraordinary sum. But it has helped turn GMU into a leader in conservative scholarship and explains why some have referred to it as "Koch U." One other tidbit: A former economist at the school, Richard Fink, is a director and former president of the foundation bearing Charles Koch’s name.
Now, even more Koch money is on its way to GMU, this time to honor the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The February death of Scalia was a heavy blow to the nation’s conservative moment, which regarded the justice and former law professor as one of its greatest intellectuals. But Scalia’s legacy will live on at GMU, which is renaming a law school and endowing a scholarship in his name.
George Mason recently announced $30 million worth of pledges to the university’s law school. A large chunk of those funds—$10 million to be exact—will come from the Charles Koch Foundation, while the remaining $20 million came from an anonymous commitment. Taken together, the gifts comprise the largest donation in the school’s history.
The $30 million donation will rename the law school at GMU the Antonin Scalia School of Law. Scholarships supported by the funds will include the Antonin Scalia Scholarship, which will be awarded to law students with outstanding academic credentials. Scalia was a frequent guest lecturer at the university.
Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Reagan. During his time on the bench, Scalia became known for prolific opinion writing, including stinging dissents, as well as for aggressive questioning of attorneys who argued before the court. He was regarded as one of the court’s most conservative justices and was admired by conservative activists and scholars.
Scalia, however, occasionally displayed a libertarian streak that left his admirers scratching their heads. Many conservatives were dismayed, for example, when he voted with a majority on the court in 1990 to strike down a federal law that banned “desecration” of the American flag. The law had been championed by many conservatives, including then-President George H.W. Bush.
Other scholarships funded by the $30 million donation include the Linwood Holton Jr. Leadership Scholarship and the F.A. Hayek Law, Legislation, and Liberty Scholarship. Holton was a former governor of Virginia, while Hayek was an Austrian-born Nobel laureate in economics whose work is revered by conservative and libertarian scholars. His best-known works include The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty.
Scalia’s death in February has left a 4-4 split between the Supreme Court’s conservative and liberal wings. President Obama has nominated federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland as a successor, but the Republican majority in the Senate has refused to consider the nomination, claiming that filling the vacancy should wait until after the November presidential election. One wonders: What would Scalia have thought of that argument?