With his longtime friend Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. in the audience, Georgetown University Law Center professor Richard Lazarus was officially installed last week as the new William J. Brennan Jr. professor of law at the school. Lazarus, a member of the Georgetown faculty since 1996, was a founder of the school's Supreme Court Institute and is a leading specialist in environmental law.
The professorship was endowed by an unnamed Georgetown alumnus who was also a friend of the late justice Brennan, according to interim dean Judith Areen, who presided over the installation -- complete with an academic procession and brass band. Brennan's longtime assistant Mary Elmore was also in the audience. The chief justice was accompanied by his wife Jane, a Georgetown Law alumna. Video of the Feb. 3 event can be viewed here.
Lazarus was a Harvard Law School classmate of Roberts and roomed with him in 1980 when they both came to D.C. Lazarus generally does not bandy about his friendship with Roberts, and in his remarks at the installation did not acknowledge the chief justice's presence. But Georgetown colleague J. Peter Byrne, who introduced Lazarus, recalled meeting Lazarus and Roberts at their "spartanly furnished apartment" on Capitol Hill on election night in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won. Byrne said drily, "the dismay I felt" about Reagan's victory that night "was not shared by Richard's roommate." Byrne called Lazarus "the best environmental law professor of his generation."
As part of the ceremony, Lazarus gave a lecture on his twin academic loves: environmental law and the Supreme Court. He reviewed all 16 Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the National Environmental Policy Act. All of them were losses for the environmental side, though Lazarus asserted that not all were total losses. His study of the Court's environmental docket led Lazarus to conclude, "what a difference a justice can make," as can good advocacy by lawyers in the cases.
Though the late Wiliam O. Douglas is a hero to environmentalists, Lazarus said he was "surprisingly ineffective" when it came to building coalitions and majorities within the Court's deliberations. By contrast, Lazarus said, the late Wiliam Rehnquist was "hands down" the most effective justice in NEPA cases, going a long way toward explaining all the losses for environmentalists. Likewise, Lazarus said the skillled U.S. solicitors general who have handled the environmental cases on the opposite side of environmental plaintifs were also crucial to the outcomes. They were careful not to bring losing cases and losing arguments to the high court and were able to craft a solid track record as a result.
As the ceremony for Lazarus ended, it was notable that the Georgetown law faculty was allowed to exit first, accompanied by the band's fanfare. The chief justice, who in other settings often gets to leave first, seemed content to wait his turn this time. He was seen in the video tapping his program to the rhythm of the music as the robed professors slowly left the auditorium.