Friday, March 16, 2018
Ronald Rotunda (1945-2018) R.I.P.: A Life Well Lived for a Scholar's Scholar
Ron Rotunda surprisingly passed away Wednesday. Ron was an ardent conservative and brilliant scholar. The prodigious, brilliant scholar was a scholar’s scholar. He wrote two leading casebooks in Constitutional and Professional Responsibility. Few professors publish even one casebook. He co-authored a six volume treatise on Constitutional Law and the leading deskbook for lawyers on professional responsibility (legal ethics). The Professor authored over 500 books, articles, papers, and op-eds. He was writing until he entered the hospital two weeks ago with complications from a simple hernia operation. He has been cited over 2,000 times, one of the most cited law professors. Ron attended Harvard College on a scholarship and then Harvard Law School. He graduated magna cum laude from both. He clerked for Judge Walter R. Mansfield of the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He served as an assistant majority counsel to the Watergate Committee and later from 1997-1999 as Special Counsel to the Office of Independent Counsel (Kenneth Starr). One of the memos he wrote two decades ago is cited today with respect to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the possible collusion between the Russia and the Trump Presidential campaign. He concluded that a special prosecutor could not indict a sitting President, but a grand jury could. His tenet is that no one is above the law. The Constitution provides immunity to legislators “for any speech or debate” in Congress,” but is silent on immunity for the President. He entered the professoriate in 1974 at the University of Illinois Law School, where he became the Alfred E. Jenner, Jr. Professor of Law Chair. He moved after 25 years to George Mason Law School as the University Foundation Professor of Law. He then came west to the Dale E. Fowler School of Law of Chapman University in 2008 as the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence. He never slowed down, continuously grinding out pages of op-eds, papers, and updates. His latest book, “John Marshall and the Cases that United the States of America: Beveridge’s Abridged Life of John Marshall,” was published just before his death. He was scheduled to discuss the book at Chapman last Tuesday. His influence extended far from the United States. He has consulted with Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine. Not everyone understood or appreciated Professor Rotunda. He could be prickly on occasion. He was an irreconcilable, irascible curmudgeon. That was part of his charm. Silence was not an option for him. He would speak truth to power for he had power in his convictions. He could be a pain in the gluteus maximus of administrators. Ron Rotunda’s persona was one of transparency. You always knew where he was coming from. His heart was in the right place. He asked questions for which others perhaps did not want to hear the answers. He could quickly cut through the clutter and BS to the core of the issue, and point out inconsistencies and weaknesses of opponents. You would not want to debate him without a full understanding of the facts, law, and policies. Ron Rotunda was a conservative’s conservative on economic and security issues. The ardent conservative was associated with the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation. He was a social libertarian and a strong advocate for personal freedom. Professor Rotunda constitutional base was as a Scalia constitutionist. He supported President Trump’s policies, but not the President’s style. Yet, no matter how heavy his work load, he always was willing to graciously spend 15 minutes, a half hour or more several times a week discussing current political and social issues, political history, and history in general with a slightly younger colleague, often interrupted only by an important phone call. The erudite professor had an memory unbelievable memory and encyclopedic knowledge. We enjoyed these times over the past couple of years. i The amazing phenomenon about Professor Rotunda is that he was still in his prime at 73 when fate struck him down. Professor Rotunda will be missed, but his legal scholarship will last for eons. Professor Ronald Rotunda was more than an esteemed colleague; he was a close personal friend to me. His was a life well-lived, that ended too soon.