NATIONAL NEWS

Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging name change for California’s former Hastings law school

Feb 7, 2024, 6:39 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sought to block the University of California from renaming the former Hastings College of the Law because its namesake was linked to the slaughter of Native Americans.

Descendants of Serranus Hastings filed the $1.7 billion breach of contract lawsuit over the decision to change the name to the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, which took effect last year.

Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer ruled Tuesday that an 1878 law that said the school “shall forever be known” by Hastings’ name wasn’t a binding contract and could be amended or repealed, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Ulmer also rejected a claim that the change violated the state Constitution’s requirement that the University of California remain “free of all political or sectarian influence,” the Chronicle said.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Gregory Michael, said the ruling will be appealed.

“We remain undeterred in our pursuit of justice for the family of Serranus Hastings,” he told the Chronicle on Wednesday.

Hastings was a wealthy rancher and former chief justice of the California Supreme Court. He founded and funded the law school, whose graduates include Vice President Kamala Harris and former California Assemblyman and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

But historians say Hastings helped orchestrate and finance campaigns by white settlers in Mendocino County to kill and enslave members of the Yuki tribe at a time when California had legalized lynch mob attacks on Natives, along with kidnapping and forced servitude, in what some state leaders openly called a war of extermination.

The expeditions arranged by Hastings resulted in the deaths of 300 Yuki, and the government reimbursed him for expenses including ammunition.

The attacks were part of a three-year series of slaughters and kidnappings by settlers known as the Round Valley Settler Massacres that by some estimates claimed at least 1,000 Native lives.

The school began to investigate Hastings’ legacy in 2017 and later requested the state pass a law permitting the name change, which took effect last year.

The descendants’ lawsuit, filed in October 2022, contended that there was “no known evidence that S.C. Hastings desired, requested, or knowingly encouraged any atrocities against Native Americans.”

In 2020 the law school at UC Berkeley stripped itself of a 19th-century namesake who espoused racist views that led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. John Boalt’s name was removed from a school building after a three-year process.

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Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging name change for California’s former Hastings law school