Tom Garrett proposes bill to rename Charlottesville federal courthouse in honor of Antonin Scalia
City mayor, College Republicans, University Democrats weigh in on legislation
Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) proposed a bill in Congress Monday that would rename Charlottesville’s federal courthouse after former University Law School Professor and late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The building would officially be named the Justice Antonin G. Scalia Federal Building and United States Courthouse.
This is Garrett’s first bill as a representative of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District.
Scalia, who taught at the University from 1967-74, was famous for his originalist way of thinking and belief that the Constitution should be understood and interpreted in the way that is was originally written. While Scalia was a controversial figure, Elliot Harding, chair of the Albemarle County Republican Committee and legislative counsel to Garrett, argued that his talent and contributions to the legal field are undeniable.
“I think it’s reasonable to note that a lot of people have problems with opinions that are written by all justices,” Harding said. “All justices can be praised for some things and loved for others and chastised for others … Even those that disagree with him can recognize his talent and his contribution to the legal field.”
Virginia Chambers, University Democrats communications coordinator and a first-year College student, however, described the bill as relatively “inconsequential” and said she does not think the bill should be Garrett’s main priority.
“There are plenty of first bills from many novice senators who kind of start off a little slow to get their footing,” Chambers said. “I think that this is purely harmless, it won’t really affect many people, it doesn’t have huge monetary restrictions or anything, but I don’t know if it’s the most productive thing to do even though it’s not going to be actively harmful.”
Chambers, as well as Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, expressed their hope that Garrett focus on more pressing issues affecting the district’s working families.
“I suggest [Garrett] focus on delivering results for working families, not more political theater for the far right,” Signer recently told The Daily Progress. Signer did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Harding fired back at Signer’s criticism and said the mayor has been “tying up the city of Charlottesville for a significant amount of time regarding statues and memorial debates.”
On Feb. 6, City Council voted in favor of removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park in downtown Charlottesville. Signer and Councilor Kathy Galvin voted against the proposal to remove the statue.
“I think if the mayor believes in history and if the mayor believes in recognizing significant figures that spent impactful time in the area, then he should be in favor of it,” Harding said. “All it does is continue to add to the reputation of Charlottesville being the home of residents that have shaped their nation in the most fundamental ways.”
Adam Kimelman, vice chairman of campaigns for College Republicans and second-year College student, said he believed it was unreasonable for Mayor Signer to oppose the proposed bill.
“I think that the mayor doesn’t agree with Garrett and his politics,” Kimelman said. “But he is going too far here by attacking him trying to honor such as great guy as Justice Scalia.”
Chambers also acknowledged Scalia’s impact on the Charlottesville community and his achievements.
“While we don’t really agree with most of Scalia’s decisions … we recognize that he was a very important juror and his legacy has continued and will continue probably for generations,” Chambers said. “Given that he did teach at U.Va.’s law school for a little bit in the beginning of his career, it’s not outside the realm of what would be appropriate.”
The bill is currently in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and if approved, will continue to the House floor.