Racist Pasts of Boalt Hall and Hastings' Namesakes Haunt Law Schools
Lawyer Serranus Clinton Hastings made his fortune during the California Gold Rush and served as the first chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court before giving $100,000—supposedly in gold coins—to establish the University of California’s first law school in 1878.
Hastings apparently also enjoyed hunting Native Americans.
You read that right.
The namesake of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, according to historians, financed and promoted “Indian-hunting expeditions,” in which wealthy men hunted Native Americans for sport in the mid-19th century.
Now, an adjunct professor is calling for the San Francisco law school to take a comprehensive look at Hastings’ legacy and reconsider whether his name belongs on the school.
Similarly, an attorney and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law has raised questions about a racist legacy of John Henry Boalt, after whom the school’s main building is named. Boalt was a Bay Area attorney best known, according to Charles Reichmann, for his efforts to remove the Chinese from the Golden State and his advocacy for what became the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law to bar immigrants based on their race.
Both Reichmann and John Briscoe, the Hastings adjunct, penned recent op-eds in the San Francisco Chronicle criticizing the long-dead benefactors for racism and genocide and calling for a thoughtful examination of their legacies.
It seems those calls have not gone unheard. Berkeley law spokeswoman Susan Gluss said last week that the school has formed a “diverse committee of stakeholders” to review Boalt’s history and the “appropriateness” of his name appearing on campus.
“It’s important to note that John Boalt himself had no relationship with the law school, and Boalt Hall is not the official name of the UC Berkeley School of Law,” according to a statement from the law school. “Nonetheless, the name is used widely colloquially within and outside the school, and the concerns raised are meaningful.”
Hastings has already commissioned a researcher to gather more information about the school’s namesake and plans to form a committee to parse those findings and determine whether they warrant action.
“I have an open mind as to where we go from here,” said Hastings Dean David Faigman.
Other law schools in recent years also have run into trouble because of associations with controversial figures. Last year, Harvard Law School revamped its official seal to remove the family crest of early donor and slaveholder, Isaac Royall Jr., following calls from students and an in-depth administrative review.
George Mason University faced extensive pushback from critics who opposed the renaming of its law school in 2016 for the late Antonin Scalia, citing the justice’s conservative and sometimes divisive views.
Changing a law school’s long-held official name, as in the case of Hastings, or a de facto name (Berkeley’s law school was known as Boalt Hall as recently as 2008) is a weighty matter. Reichmann and Briscoe both said in interviews last week that they aren’t asking for the Hastings and Boalt names to be stripped from their respective schools outright. Rather, they aim to raise awareness about the little-discussed and complex history of these men.
Source: Law Journal