No one can accuse Belmont of not swinging for the fences.
Less than six weeks after opening its law school — the first new law school in Middle Tennessee in nearly a century — Belmont announced the creation of an endowed chair.
And the first person to sit in that chair? Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Bully for Belmont, as it is the only law school in the country with a former AG on its permanent faculty. Grooming future litigators seems a natural progression for old attorneys general and one must wonder how, then, has Dick Thornburgh kept himself busy for the past two decades?
Gonzales, of course, is not a man who inspires widespread warm and fuzzy feelings across the political spectrum. He was a lightning rod of controversy during his tenure as America’s top cop.
His claim to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Constitution does not expressly grant a guarantee of habeas corpus sent Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into a tizzy and was, presumably, a topic of breathless debate at constitutional scholar cocktail parties for weeks.
More troubling — and perhaps easier to grasp than differing readings of the Suspension Clause — was the Department of Justice’s warrantless wiretapping, which began during Gonzales’ time as White House counsel, and his threat to prosecute The New York Times under a World War I-era espionage law for writing stories about the program. Then there were the memos saying torture is A-OK here in the shining city on the hill.
But maybe the controversy surrounding Gonzales is a selling point for the booming Belmont.
Law schools — like restaurants — need a buzz to get going. Belmont raised eyebrows — and hackles — by bringing Gonzales on board.
The former AG is bemoaned and derided, perhaps, but he is a former attorney-general and nowhere else can make such a claim. It’s the legal education equivalent of the new kid throwing a haymaker at the established strongmen. After all, Roger Taney isn’t teaching admiralty law at Vanderbilt, is he?
Belmont got a little lucky, too. Gonzales has a personal connection to the Boulevard: His son is a student at the university.