Serranus Clinton Hastings’ name is set to be removed from a California law school. The descendants are suing.
It is common for places such as schools, national parks, and federal or state buildings to be named after historical figures that could be considered controversial. For example, our forefathers were slave owners and there are several places named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And these two figures are far from the only ones that have their namesake on monuments, statutes, buildings and elsewhere. A California law school is now at the center of such controversy, preparing to remove the Hastings’ name.
The University of California Hastings College of Law was named after a seemingly tendentious historical figure, Serranus Clinton Hastings who had donated $100,000 in gold coins in the year 1878 in order to create the college. He even served as its first dean. Despite his contributions and the creation of the school, he still acted in a manner that many consider unbecoming.
Serranus Clinton Hastings is alleged to have caused the many deaths of Native American men, women, and children during the time he was alive while in the state of California by abiding by a militia campaign to effectively eliminate tribes in the state. In response to the backlash of the college being named after this provocative figure, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would enable the school’s name to be changed.
In response to this, the relatives of Serranus Clinton Hastings have filed a lawsuit against the State of California. They claim that the legislation Gavin Newsom signed into law on September 23, 2022, is due to “cancel culture” and “puts a negative microscope on Hastings and all of his descendants as well as graduates of the law college.” The heirs reject the notion that Hastings was ever complicit in the state run militia that went after California tribes.
The lawsuit also states that “by changing the name, an agreement that was made between California and Hastings has been breached” when he created the school by donating $100,000 in gold to the California treasury. In the agreement, it was required the college to always keep Hastings’ name in some capacity and that, while alive, Hastings would serve as its inaugural dean. In the future, an heir or representative would have to sit on the board of directors at the school.
Their claim is that their ancestor was never who was explicitly compliant in the efforts against Native Americans. Instead, they say he was a civil rights leader while he was alive. All the other claims, the family contends, are completely false and besmirch Hastings’ name and his ancestors.
In January 2023, the name of the college is officially going to be renamed and will no longer be referred to as the University of California Hastings College of Law. Whether the lawsuit will have any impact on this remains to be seen. The law school intends to go on with it and says it is disappointed in the lawsuit and its attempt to prevent the name change from happening. It is a bit ironic that the lawsuit is going after an issue centering around a law school.