A Georgetown Job in Jeopardy

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/30

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Supreme Court news. Last Monday, SCOTUS announced that it would hear challenges to Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s admissions practices in a case that could finally reverse the system of racial preferences that has been entrenched in American higher education for decades. Just a few days later, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, setting up the nation for yet another contentious Supreme Court nomination process. The White House quickly reassured the American people and told them not to worry—President Biden intended to make good on his campaign promise to nominate a black woman to fill the role. 

In response to the White House announcement, legal scholar Ilya Shapiro did the unthinkable: he took to Twitter and shot out a couple of quick tweets criticizing the race-based selection criteria. In the since-deleted tweets, Shapiro wrote: 

Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart. Even has identity politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American. But alas doesn't fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman. Thank heaven for small favors? 

Because Biden said he's only consider[ing] black women for SCOTUS, his nominee will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.

Though his phrasing was hasty, Shapiro’s opinion was by no means extreme. In fact, his views align with the majority of America: a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 76% of Americans believe that Biden should “consider all possible nominees” rather than “consider only nominees who are Black women, as he has pledged to do”—and even a majority of Democrats (54%) agree. 

Nonetheless, the Twitter mob pounced on Shapiro and decried him as racist (never mind that his tweets openly advocated for the appointment of the first Indian justice). The Black Law Students Association at Georgetown, where Shapiro had just been appointed as Senior Lecturer and Executive Director for the Center for the Constitution, wrote a letter to the university administration calling for the revocation of Shapiro’s employment contract (alongside several other DEI-related demands). Dean and Executive Vice President of Georgetown University Law Center Bill Treanor released his own letter condemning Shapiro, which called his tweets “damaging to the culture of equity and inclusion that Georgetown Law is building every day [emphasis added].”

In response to the backlash, Shapiro issued a statement saying that he regretted his “poor choice of words, which undermined [his] message that nobody should be discriminated against for his or her skin color.” However, he doubled down on his belief that “blatantly using identity politics in choosing Supreme Court justices is discrediting to a vital institution.” He said that he believes Sri Srinivasan is “the most qualified nominee a Democratic president could choose” and that it is “a shame that he and other men and women of every race are excluded from the outset of the selection process.”

Despite Shapiro’s apology, Dean Treanor announced yesterday that he had placed Shapiro on administrative leave. His fate will ultimately hinge on the outcome of a formal investigation—and if the past few years are any indication, Shapiro’s refusal to bow down to the “latest intersectional hierarchy” won’t win him any favors. 

In this week’s featured article, the editorial team at the National Review calls on Georgetown Law to stand up for Shapiro’s academic freedom: 

It was obvious what [Shapiro] meant with his tweet, and he rapidly deleted it and apologized for the wording. In a rational world, that would be enough. From a faculty member who was staunchly progressive, it would be enough… [Firing Shapiro] would be a cowardly act signaling the school’s intellectual and moral inability to stand up for fairness, open speech, and minimal ideological diversity. If that comes to pass, Georgetown alumni should make their voices heard and close their wallets to the school.

Ilya Shapiro is a renowned legal scholar who is more than qualified to comment on the Supreme Court nomination process (in fact, he’s written a book on the subject). If Georgetown Law is as committed in word as in deed to intellectual diversity, that is exactly what its investigation will find. 

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Ilya Shapiro, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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