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Incoming Georgetown Law official placed on administrative leave for tweets about Supreme Court pick

School officials will investigate whether Ilya Shapiro’s tweets breached policy; Shapiro says he expects to be vindicated

Georgetown Law Center faced a backlash to Ilya Shapiro's tweets and pressure to take disciplinary action. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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An incoming Georgetown Law administrator, who last week apologized for a series of now-deleted tweets about President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court, has been placed on administrative leave, the law school’s dean said Monday.

Ilya Shapiro, vice president and director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, was set to take over the law school’s Center for the Constitution as executive director Tuesday. He was also hired as a senior lecturer.

“I am writing to inform you that I have placed Ilya Shapiro on administrative leave, pending an investigation into whether he violated our policies and expectations on professional conduct, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment, the results of which will inform our next steps,” William M. Treanor, dean and executive vice president of the Georgetown University Law Center, wrote in an email to the law school community. Treanor said Shapiro will not be on campus pending the outcome of the investigation.

Shapiro, in an email to The Washington Post, said he expects to be vindicated.

“I’m optimistic that Georgetown’s investigation will be fair, impartial, and professional, though there’s really not much to investigate,” Shapiro wrote. “And I’m confident that it will reach the only reasonable conclusion: my Tweet didn’t violate any university rule or policy, and indeed is protected by Georgetown policies on free expression.”

Shapiro’s tweets came Wednesday after the news that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer would retire at the end of the current term. Shapiro suggested that Sri Srinivasan, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the first person of South Asian descent to lead a federal circuit court, would be Biden’s “best pick.”

“But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman,” Shapiro wrote in a tweet. “Thank heaven for small favors?”

Shapiro also said that if Biden’s pick is a Black woman, she “will always have an asterisk attached.” He asked his followers in a poll if the president’s commitment to nominating a Black female judge was racist, sexist, both or neither.

A guide to the Black female judges who are contenders to replace Justice Breyer

In a tweet Thursday, Shapiro wrote: “I apologize. I meant no offense, but it was an inartful tweet. I have taken it down.” He posted a longer statement on Friday, saying he regretted his “poor choice of words,” but called it a shame that “men and women of every race” will be excluded from the president’s nomination process.

“A person’s dignity and worth simply do not, and should not, depend on race, gender, or any other immutable characteristic,” Shapiro wrote. “While it’s important that a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds be represented in the judiciary, so blatantly using identity politics in choosing Supreme Court justices is discrediting to a vital institution.”

The decision to place Shapiro on administrative leave comes after a backlash to his tweets and pressure on the law school to take disciplinary action. Some student groups, including the Black Law Students Association, called on the school to revoke Shapiro’s employment, arguing that his views do not have a place at the university.

“At Georgetown Law, Black students are haunted by the shadow of imposter syndrome,” BLSA members said in a statement Friday. “Shapiro reinforced this phenomenon by reducing Black women’s accomplishments to ‘small favors’ from ‘heaven.’”

Treanor, in his Monday email, said his decision came after listening to the “pain and outrage” of those in the community, particularly Black female students.

“Ilya Shapiro’s tweets are antithetical to the work that we do here every day to build inclusion, belonging, and respect for diversity,” he wrote. “Racial stereotypes about individual capabilities and qualifications remain a pernicious force in our society and our profession.”

But others on campus are defending Shapiro.

Luke Bunting, a law student and co-president of the school’s chapter of the Conservative and Libertarian Student Association, said that Shapiro has apologized and clarified his message but that school officials are inflaming tensions on campus.

Of Treanor’s email, Bunting said: “He, again, reiterates that the way he reads those tweets is the worst possible reading of them, and then putting that out there infers that students should adopt that reading as well. Law schools are all about having discourse, and if the administration is sowing discord, we’re not going to be able to engage with each other in the way that law school demands.”