Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, December 05, 2016

As it happens my law school is housed in a building named for John Lord O'Brian, a one-time United States Attorney most famous for prosecuting Eugene V. Debbs. I guess that is several degrees less horrible than being named for a pro-slavery Senator, but I've never felt particularly great about it. We have some rooms named after some people that didn't exactly live up to the highest principles of our glamor profession as well, but for the most part I am able to regard that with a wink and a sense of irony. What I'm saying is that I'm impressed with Yale's approach on this issue. It has decided that there is a "strong presumption against renaming", that if a namesake has “made major contributions to the University,” then “the presumption against renaming is at its strongest,” and that four criteria should be considered in considering the question. The first is whether "a principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?”; the second is, “Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived?”; the third is whether, "the University, at the time of a naming, honor[ed] a namesake for reasons that are fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?”, and finally, does a building that meets the other criteria “play a substantial role in forming community at the University?”

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