Georgetown Should Not Fire Ilya Shapiro for a Bad Tweet

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Georgetown University’s Black Law Students Association is demanding the firing of Ilya Shapiro, a director of constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, from his brand new position at the university. Shapiro was slated to start work as executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution next week, but a poorly worded tweet about President Joe Biden’s pledge to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court has landed him in hot water.

Shapiro agrees that the tweet was not great.

“I regret my poor choice of words, which undermine my message that no one should be discriminated against for his or her gender or skin color,” Shapiro tells Reason.

On Wednesday, Shapiro tweeted the following:

Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart. Even has identify 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.

I sincerely and deeply apologize for some poorly drafted tweets I posted late Wednesday night. Issues of race are of course quite sensitive, and debates over affirmative action are always fraught. My intent was to convey my opinion that excluding potential Supreme Court candidates, most notably Chief Judge Srinivasan, simply because of their race or gender, was wrong and harmful to the long term reputation of the Court. It was not to cast aspersions on the qualifications of a whole group of people, let alone question their worth as human beings. A person’s dignity and worth simply do not, and should not, depend on any immutable characteristic. Those who know me know that I am sincere about these sentiments, and I would be more than happy to meet with any of you who have doubts about the quality of my heart.

In seeking to join the Georgetown community, I wanted to contribute to your worthy mission to educate students, inform the public, and engage in the battle of legal ideas that lead to justice and fairness. I still want to do that. Recklessly framed tweets like this week’s obviously don’t advance that mission, for which I am also truly sorry. Regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with me on a host of legal and policy issues, I can and will do better with regard to how I communicate my positions.

Shapiro’s wording was certainly misguided, as he freely admits. But it’s not right to say he had asserted that black women as a category would make poor Supreme Court justices. Rather, he indicated that he thought the absolute best choice—from a progressive standpoint—was a specific judge, Sri Srinivasan (an Indian American and member of the Hindu faith, which would also be a first for the Court). In his tweet, Shapiro was lamenting that Biden’s commitment to choosing a justice who fits a specific demographics profile would preclude him from making this selection.

This is an understandable opinion. While ensuring that the Supreme Court better reflects the diversity of the country is a worthwhile goal, there are many ways to accomplish this. (Currently, eight of the nine justices attended law school at either Harvard or Yale—Biden could look outside the Ivy League, for one.) It is fine to criticize the idea that Biden’s primary and overriding criteria would be along racial and gender lines.

The phrasing “lesser black woman” was particularly ugly by itself, of course, but is being misconstrued by those calling for Shapiro to be fired. Members of the Georgetown community are not wrong to demand more precise wording from someone of Shapiro’s stature, but given that he has apologized, the university should accept this and move on. If Georgetown’s administration were to fire Shapiro, it would be tacitly endorsing the unfair smear that he is a racist and a sexist.

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