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'ASS Law': University gets a lesson in acronyms after renaming law school for Antonin Scalia

Virginia's George Mason University promptly renamed its Antonin Scalia School Of Lawafter masses of people on Twitter pointed out what the acronym spells.

George Mason University has renamed its 'Antonin Scalia School Of Law' after realizing what the acronym spells

George Mason University updated its press release about the newly renamed "Antonin Scalia School of Law" on Thursday to reflect that it would now be called "the Antonin Scalia Law School." If you can figure out the former name's acronym, it's not hard to see why. (George Mason University/CBC News screenshot)

An earnest attempt by one of America's top public research universities to honour late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia backfired in spectacular fashion this week after word got out that it had inadvertently renamed its law school "ASS Law" (or, if you prefer, "ASSoL.")

Virginia's George Mason University was thrilled to announce on Thursday that it had received a total of $30 million US in gifts to support its law school – the largest combined pledge sum university history.

At the request of one anonymous donor, who contributed $20 million to the funding pool, George Mason agreed to rename its law school after Scalia, who died in February at the age of 79.

"Justice Scalia, who served 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke at the dedication of the law school building in 1999 and was a guest lecturer at the university," wrote the school in a press release about the name change. "In recognition of this historic gift, the Board of Visitors has approved the renaming of the school to The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University."

The page on George Mason's website containing that release was updated, however, on April 7 according to its source code. Instead of "The Antonin Scalia School of Law," the name now reads "the Antonin Scalia Law School."

If you can figure out what the former name's acronym would be, it's easy to see why – or at least it was for people on Twitter after the university's initial announcement.

News and chatter about the unfortunate acronym propelled the #ASSLaw hashtag to trend in Washington, D.C. on March 31. Some even speculated that the entire renaming was an April Fools joke.

Alas, it was not. George Mason University dean Henry N. Butler addressed the controversy on Tuesday in a letter addressed to students, faculty members and alumni.

"All of you should have received an email from me on Thursday of last week announcing the historic gift of $30 million for our great law school," he wrote. "The name initially announced – The Antonin Scalia School of Law – has caused some acronym controversy on social media. The Antonin Scalia Law School is a logical substitute."

Butler said that he anticipates the naming to become effective by July of this year, "pending final approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia."

This hasn't deterred fans of the original acronym from championing it.

Some on Twitter continue to argue that "ASSoL" is fitting, primarily on the grounds that $10 million of the total gift sum was donated by the Charles Koch Foundation. 

Koch and his brother, David – the Koch brothers – run the second-largest private corporation in the U.S. and are noted for using their wealth to influence politicians (and thus policy.) Their critics are plentiful.

Others just seem to really, really want an "ASS Law" t-shirt. Fortunately for them, several are now available to buy.

While critics of the #ASSoL trend contend that these jokes are immature or disrespectful to Scalia's legacy, it's hard to say how the Supreme Court Justice himself would have reacted. 

"Justice Antonin Scalia could be caustic in his dissents," wrote the New York Times. "But he was also known for a sharp wit that often drew laughter from Supreme Court audiences... So perhaps even he would have found humour in the commotion over the new name."

It certainly didn't seem to bother his longtime colleague and personal friend, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"Justice Scalia was a law teacher, public servant, legal commentator, and jurist nonpareil," she said in a statement published by George Mason University. "As a colleague who held him in highest esteem and great affection, I miss his bright company and the stimulus he provided, his opinions ever challenging me to meet his best efforts with my own." 

"May the funds for scholarships, faculty growth, and curricular development aid the Antonin Scalia School of Law to achieve the excellence characteristic of Justice Scalia," she concluded. "Grand master in life and law."

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