Fresh off the news that Federalist Society mastermind Leonard Leo received a $1.6 billion donation through his “Marble Freedom Trust” from electronics magnate Barre Seid, Pro Publica and The Lever have an in-depth dive into Seid’s penchant for conservative philanthropy. According to the report, the billionaire engages in “attack philanthropy,” and has funded a range of far-right causes including climate deniers, business deregulation, and opposing Medicare expansion.
But of the most relevance to Above the Law readers is Seid’s involvement in the 2016 rebrand of George Mason’s law school to the infamous ASSLaw. Remember it was leaked that GMU was changing the law school to the Antonin Scalia School of Law, because acronyms were apparently too hard a concept to comprehend. (The school later backtracked off the name, calling it the Antonin Scalia Law School, but it forever remains ASSLaw in our hearts.)
But now it’s confirmed that Seid was the donor who made ASSLaw possible.
The new emails, obtained through a public records request by ProPublica and The Lever, appear to confirm that Seid made the donation. The then-dean of the law school, Henry Butler, emailed Seid in 2019 with a personal update “on progress that we made at Scalia Law since the naming gift,” explaining that it had inspired another, larger donation. “Thank you for your generous support,” Butler added. (Butler and a spokesperson for GMU did not respond to requests for comment.)
In response, Seid said he would “discuss this with Leonard shortly,” apparently a reference to Leonard Leo.
But money that big doesn’t come without a few strings.
He then asked the dean for a personal favor: helping his nephew get into law school.
“Separately, do you still have useful connections at Northwestern Law? I have Nepot with LSAT 167,” Seid wrote, using an archaic term for nephew.
“Happy to try to help at Northwestern. I have several good friends on the faculty at Northwestern,” Butler wrote, then added: “Please tell him that he has a full-ride at Scalia Law where he can take courses from Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanagh [sic]. Onward and Upward!”
[Also, aside: what kind of wannabe right-wing muckety muck spells Kavanaugh’s name wrong?]
This kind of rich and powerful back scratching is all too common, but rarely discussed. But it’s important to throw the spotlight on all this bullshit. Because remember, conservatives are desperate for white middle America to believe it’s affirmative action closing the door on their dreams of an elite school acceptance, not rich uncles pulling strings for their nephew to get into Northwestern (with slightly below average LSAT scores for that year, by the way). And notice how rich people are able to score full rides — without actually trying — to law school, but it is the $10,000 in student loan forgiveness that is destroying personal responsibility. Okay, sure.
The Pro Publica article details the extensive steps Seid took to remain in the shadows and to hide his identity. But the influence he wields is anything but hidden.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).