Rob Natelson retired from the University of Montana Law School last year and joined the Independence Institute in Colorado, thus relieving himself from a years of persecution and discrimination for being a vocal and active conservative. In 2004, after the law school had failed to recognize his prolific scholarship, denied him the opportunity for a sabbatical, and then refused to assign him to teach constitutional law, he filed a discrimination complaint, and the UM President ruled in his favor. The dean of the law school at the time admitted that their poor treatment had nothing to do with Natelson’s work or professional conduct with his students. This week, the law school paid him back for that victory (and probably his anti-ObamaCare stance) and dissed him one last time, denying him an emeritus status that seems de rigeur for other retiring professors there. Natelson described his lonely road at UM in a comment on Volokh Conspiracy, the legal blog: “For the first five years I was on the faculty, I was not politically active and my views were largely unknown-and I was treated rather well by both faculty and students. After I became involved in politics (strictly on my own time, of course), things became quite different. (As a Reagan conservative, I was essentially a minority of one among faculty.) And the more visible politically I was at any given time, the more negative the response.”
But, like many instances of academic bias against a real conservative, the only thing that UM has really done has been to turn Rob Natelson into a conservative hero. His case has been discussed on Real Clear Politics and a number of conservative websites, in addition to being noted on legal blogs like Volokh and the ABA Journal. But I didn’t need them to tell me about Rob Natelson’s principles or resolve. I’ve come to know and appreciate Rob Natelson as a respected scholar and Constitutional conservative, as well as a nice guy, through a series of e-mails with him as he tried to persuade Congress to reject an unconstitutional federal medical malpractice law. His letter to the chairmen of two House committees and blog posts warning Congress of the ramifications of that law planted sufficient doubt in the minds of Republican lawmakers that tort reformers tried to counter him with an analysis of their own, and it fell flat. Many scholars would’ve shied away from criticizing powerful lawmakers over one of their favorite bills. But fortunately Rob Natelson isn’t like most scholars.