Embattled new hire quits Georgetown Law amid free speech controversy

A man walks at an empty campus green at Georgetown University, closed weeks ago due to coronavirus, in Washington, US, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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  • Ilya Shapiro last week was cleared to join the law school following a four-month investigation into tweets some students deemed racist
  • Shapiro said the school’s actions made it impossible to do the job he was hired for

Conservative legal scholar Ilya Shapiro, who riled law students and critics in January with Twitter messages suggesting President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the US Supreme court would result in a “lesser nominee,” will not be joining Georgetown University Law Center after all.

Shapiro submitted a resignation letter to the law school on Monday, five days after he was cleared by university investigators to take up his post as executive director of the school’s Center for the Constitution.

The four-month inquiry determined that Shapiro could not be fired over the tweets in question — which ignited fresh debates overcampus free speech — because he posted them a week before his employment at the school began. But fallout from the messages and Georgetown Law dean William Treanor’s handling of the matter made joining the faculty “untenable,” Shapiro wrote in his resignation letter.

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The university’s position that similar comments from Shapiro in the future would likely create a hostile environment amounted to “a huge Sword of Damocles over my head,” he wrote.

“You’ve painted a target on my back such that I could never do the job I was hired for, advancing the mission of the Center for the Constitution,” wrote Shapiro, a former leader of the Cato Institute’s constitutional studies center.

Shapiro did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Georgetown said in a statement Monday that it followed proper procedure in reviewing Shapiro’s conduct. “While we protect free speech, we work to promote civil and respectful discourse,” it said.

The Georgetown Black Law Students Association said in a statement that it was “disheartened” after Treanor announced last week that Shapiro could join the faculty. The group had earlier circulated a petition calling for the law school to rescind Shapiro’s job offer due to what it called his “racist rhetoric.”

In one of his tweets from late January, Shapiro wrote that his own favored candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer “doesn’t fit into latest intersectional hierarchy so we’ll get (a) lesser black woman.” In another, he said Biden’s pledge to pick a Black woman meant the nominee would have an “asterisk attached.”

Shapiro deleted the tweets and later described them as “inartful,” but he maintained that he did not violate any university rules or policies. Treanor placed him on administrative leave during the university investigation.

In his resignation letter, Shapiro said Georgetown has been inconsistent in applying free speech principles and that leaders have consistently failed to take action against professors who have made provocative statements critical of conservative lawmakers and judges.

(NOTE: The headline of this story has been updated to reflect that Ilya Shapiro did not hold the title of professor at Georgetown Law.)

Read more:

Georgetown Law won’t fire scholar accused of racist posts

Georgetown Law puts new hire on leave after ‘lesser’ Black woman comment

Georgetown law dean calls new hire’s comments on Breyer replacement ‘appalling’

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Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com


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