A Georgetown Law professor, Ilya Shapiro, found himself in hot water after suggesting that a potential nominee, Sri Srinivasan, for the Supreme Court was the “objectively best pick” and said that President Joe Biden would pick a “lesser black woman” for the vacancy. Shapiro later deleted the tweets and apologized for them.
Following public outcry, Georgetown suspended Shapiro and announced they would investigate him to see if he violated any of the school’s policies on “professional conduct, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment.”
Shapiro’s tweets were offensive and just plain wrong.
First, it is ludicrous to think that there aren’t plenty of Black women who are well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is among the top contenders for Biden’s nomination, torpedoes Shapiro’s statement all by herself.
Jackson is a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the same court Srinivasan serves on. She also graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law.
Credentialism is a noxious force in America, but if credentials and judicial experience are what qualifies a Supreme Court justice in Shapiro’s mind, he has taken a ridiculous position. The main distinction (without any difference) I see between Jackson and Srinivasan is that Srinivasan went to Stanford and Jackson to Harvard. Shapiro’s complaint put splitting hairs to shame and revealed him as a partisan. However, I fail to see why his statement merited suspension, investigation or any other disciplinary measure.
Professors at a university should have the right to give their opinions in public without fear of retribution. While I disagree with what Shapiro said and thought it was a lazy, offensive remark, I do not think universities should discipline their professors for making such remarks. Additionally, the university did little to achieve its ends by suspending and investigating Shapiro.
If Shapiro already apologized for his comments and took the tweets down, what was the point of punishing him? He recognized he made a mistake, then he admitted it and moved on. That is where the story should have ended.
Free speech is under attack in America from the left and the right. Texas schools are banning books about race and sexuality at the same time that liberal institutions like universities are silencing professors for espousing views that students vehemently disagree with. I believe conservatives are banning speech in a way that is more harmful because they are using state power to censor speech, which carries with it a threat of force that an institution like a university cannot match.
However, if liberals are to credibly complain about the right’s encroachment on free speech within the institutions they control, liberals must be consistent about allowing free speech in the institutions in which the left is dominant.
Though I doubt any further discipline will result from Shapiro’s investigation, the investigation and suspension have already chilled speech. Georgetown sent a clear message to dissenters that there are some opinions you are not allowed to express, lest you be investigated and potentially lose your job.
I plead with universities around the country to be more tolerant than Georgetown was toward Shapiro. The university should be a place of free expression, and not all views are going to be respectful or respectfully expressed.