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ASU Law alum commits to largest estate gift in school’s history

Photo of ASU Law alumnus Jim McAnally holding a photo of his mom, Virginia Miller.

ASU Law alumnus James McAnally holds a photo of his mother, Virginia Miller, who he says inspired him in every way.

February 17, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

Increasing access to pursue a degree, decreasing barriers and ensuring students are successful through graduation comes in many forms — all valuable in supporting the next generation of legal professionals.

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University alum James McAnally and his wife, Anne McAnally, are making the largest estate commitment to ASU Law to date. The estate gift of $4.5 million will fund student scholarships.

“This amazing gift from Jim and Anne is a tremendous contribution to ASU Law and our students,” said ASU Law co-interim Dean Adam Chodorow. “This gift will help those who want to go to law school but who cannot otherwise afford it pursue their dreams, benefiting both our students and the broader law school community. Jim and Anne are a shining example of the generosity of the ASU Law community and the special place we have built here.”

Every gift has a story. This one is driven by a cause, a purpose or an inspiration, and the sentimentality behind the commitment makes it more meaningful.

Oftentimes, the support of family and friends is what helps students through late-night study groups, the hours of reading, studying and that final push across the finish line. For McAnally, his mother, Virginia Miller, emboldened him to seize every opportunity.

“My mother was a wonderful woman and inspired me in every way,” McAnally said. “I think the best thing that ever happened to me was getting admitted to law school, and I feel humbled that I get the opportunity to make a contribution to enable future law students to do the same.”

Miller contracted polio, a condition that required her to use crutches for 40 years of her life and spend her last eight years in a wheelchair. Despite her illness, she had a will to achieve and persevere. It was her trademark.

“Life was just a tough row for her to hoe,” he said. “It was very inspiring to see her go through that. You just have to take your hat off to someone like that, that can go through all of that and still have that kind of an attitude. A very positive attitude.”

Miller’s tenacity and approach to life was what McAnally embraced as he went to serve in the Navy and eventually study law. That’s where he crossed paths with Alan Matheson, a founding faculty member at ASU Law and the third dean. Matheson gave McAnally words of encouragement and solidified his decision to apply to ASU Law, ultimately leading him to a successful career as an attorney in the Valley and supporting his mother in what would later become a policy-changing case.

In 1979, after Miller’s husband had died and with the help of McAnally, she challenged American Express and its right to terminate a spouse’s credit card after they canceled the card they issued her while she was married.

McAnally researched the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which at the time had recently been put into law by President Gerald Ford, and reached out to American Express on his mother’s behalf.

“I called them and told them what I thought about it,” he said. “They looked at it, and they thought what they were doing complied with the law. I told them that I thought a court in Arizona might disagree with them.”

McAnally met with his former ASU Law friend and alum, Kraig Marton, to go over the material he had gathered. Poring over the details for hours, they both agreed that they had a case on their hands.

Marton took the case and filed with the federal court: Miller vs. American Express. The court ruled against Miller, which led Marton to later appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, who would eventually reverse the setback in what would become one of the first Equal Credit Opportunity Act cases.

It was the fighting spirit, passed on by his mother, that led McAnally to approach Marton with the case that would be cited in future textbooks and serve as an example of consumer protection litigation. It remains one of the principal reported cases on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

McAnally credits his mother as the driving force behind all he has accomplished in life. Her character, her courage and her spirit continues to inspire him to this day, and he hopes it inspires future attorneys as well.

“There are a lot of things wrong in the world today, and there are a lot of things the law can correct,” McAnally said. “When things are going wrong, lawyers that have the courage and resources to bring lawsuits, I think they do a lot to make things right. When it’s all said and done, the law prevails. If you have good, competent lawyers, the right kind of people that are inspired to do the right thing, it seems to me, that is a very big plus for society in general.”

With this gift, the McAnallys hope to inspire others to achieve great things and to fight for what is just and fair, regardless of how tough the road ahead might seem.

For many students, the generosity of the ASU and legal community determines whether they pursue an education in law. If you’re interested or have questions about how to support ASU Law students, contact interim Director of Development Samantha Williams.

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