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Incoming Georgetown Law administrator apologizes after tweets dean called ‘appalling’

Ilya Shapiro is set to begin his role as senior lecturer and executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution on Feb. 1

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The incoming leader of a Georgetown Law research institute has apologized after facing backlash for a series of now-deleted tweets about President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court that the school’s dean has called “appalling.”

Ilya Shapiro, the vice president and director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, is set to begin his new role as executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution on Tuesday. Less than a week before Shapiro arrives on campus, his comments on Biden’s potential pick for the high court have drawn frustration from many in the community.

“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,” Shapiro wrote on Wednesday, following news that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer will retire at the end of the current term. Srinivasan made history in 2020 when he became the first person of South Asian descent to lead a federal circuit court.

“But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman,” Shapiro continued.

In a tweet that followed, Shapiro added that if Biden will only consider a Black woman to fill Breyer’s seat, his nominee “will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.”

Biden, while campaigning in 2020, vowed to nominate a Black woman to the high court. He affirmed that commitment on Thursday.

The Supreme Court earlier this week announced it will examine admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and whether universities can consider the race of applicants when trying to enroll diverse student bodies.

President Biden thanked Justice Stephen G. Breyer for his service and announced his intent to nominate the nation’s first Black woman to the Supreme Court. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

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A third tweet included a poll in which Shapiro asked his followers if Biden is racist, sexist, both or neither for his commitment to selecting a Black female nominee.

Shapiro made similar remarks about identity following Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the high court in 2009. “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit,” he wrote in a CNN column, arguing that despite Sotomayor’s accomplishments, she would not have been seriously considered for the job if she were not Hispanic.

Shapiro, who will also work as a senior lecturer at Georgetown, did not immediately return a request for comment. In a tweet Thursday, he wrote: “I apologize. I meant no offense, but it was an inartful tweet. I have taken it down.”

A Georgetown University spokesperson declined to comment on Shapiro’s remarks, citing a policy against speaking on personnel matters. William M. Treanor, dean and executive vice president of the Georgetown University Law Center, condemned Shapiro’s remarks in a statement.

“The tweets’ suggestion that the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman and their use of demeaning language are appalling,” Treanor said Thursday. “The tweets are at odds with everything we stand for at Georgetown Law and are damaging to the culture of equity and inclusion that Georgetown Law is building every day.”

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Shapiro has been accused of racism and sexism for his remarks. The National Review, a conservative magazine, pushed back on the criticism and said Biden’s commitment to nominating a Black woman eliminates qualified candidates who do not fit the president’s criteria.

The incident comes almost a year after a Georgetown Law adjunct professor was fired after making statements about Black students that Treanor called “reprehensible.”

“I hate to say this. I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks,” the professor said in a video recording. “Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ You get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.”

A second adjunct, who was involved in the conversation, was placed on administrative leave and later resigned.