Malcolm Maclachlan reports in today’s Daily Journal about impending state legislation to change the name of the UC Hastings law school because of recent focus on the institution’s founder, Serranus Hastings.

Hastings was California’s first chief justice, from 1850 to 1852.  In 1878, he donated $100,000 of his considerable wealth to found Hastings College of Law.  However, between those times, Hastings was the “mastermind” who “helped lead the assembly, financing, and state-sponsorship drive for [the] genocidal Eel River Rangers militia expedition in 1859” that killed hundreds of Native American men, women, and children.  (Benjamin Madley, An American Genocide (2016) pp. 276-280, 348-350.)

The New York Times’s Thomas Fuller has also written about the possibility of renaming the law school because of this infamous chapter of Hastings’s past — “He Unleashed a California Massacre.  Should This School Be Named for Him?

If Chief Justice Hastings’s name will be removed from the UC school, I have a suggestion for a new honoree — Alice Piper.  It’s a naming that would

A young Alice Piper

both honor a deserving California Native American and maintain a connection to the California Supreme Court.

Alice Piper was a 15-year-old who successfully filed an original writ petition in the California Supreme Court objecting to a state statute that — among other discriminatory provisions — barred “Indian children” from attending a “district school” if “the United States government has established an Indian school” in the school district.  (Piper v. Big Pine School Dist. (1924) 193 Cal. 664, 667.)

There was a U.S. “Indian school” in the school district where Piper lived and, based on the statute, the district banned her from its public school because she was “a person of Indian blood.”  (Piper, supra, 193 Cal. at p. 666.)  The Supreme Court rejected the district’s position.  Describing Piper as “the descendant of an aboriginal race whose ancient right to occupy the soil has the sanction of nature’s code” (id. at p. 671), the court declared the exclusion of Piper to be a violation of both the California and

Alice Piper statue in front of the Big Pine Unified School District building

federal constitutions.

The Piper opinion came 30 years before Brown v. Board of Education (1954) 347 U.S. 483 outlawed segregated schooling, but the California Supreme Court decision wasn’t completely revolutionary.  The court still adhered to what it called the “finally settled” law that a state could “require Indian children or others in whom racial differences exist to attend separate schools, provided such schools are equal in every substantial respect with those furnished for children of the white race.”  (Piper, supra, 193 Cal. at p. 671.)  Piper prevailed only because it was the U.S. and not the school district that had established a separate “Indian school,” the court concluding education is “exclusively the function of the state which cannot be delegated to any other agency.”  (Id. at p. 669.)

The Piper opinion might have been a relatively limited victory, but that does not diminish Alice Piper’s status as a civil rights hero for standing up to her school district in the first place.

Naming a law school after the eponymous plaintiff of a Supreme Court case establishing Native American educational rights instead of a former Supreme Court Chief Justice who unleashed a massacre of Native Americans has definite cosmic appeal.

The Piper College of Law has a nice ring to it.


Hoping to honor a pioneering civil rights plaintiff

Nicole Blalock-Moore, Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County:  Indigenous Schooling and Resistance in the Early Twentieth Century (2012) 94 Southern California Quarterly 346.