U.S. law school puts faculty on leave after ‘lesser black woman’ comment

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One of the U.S.’s most prestigious law schools, the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC, has put an incoming faculty member, Ilya Shapiro, on administrative leave, while his Twitter comments are investigated.

Mr. Shapiro, who was due to start work on Tuesday as a senior lecturer and the executive director of the school’s constitutional law centre, had said that U.S. President Joe Biden’s intention to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court would necessarily mean that a top-quality candidate was not being selected as a ‘lesser black woman’ would be chosen.

“Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart [ solid, progressive and very smart],” Mr. Shapiro had tweeted on last Wednesday. “Even has identity politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American. But alas doesn’t fit into latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman. Thank heaven for small favors? ” Mr. Shapiro wrote.

Chandigarh-born Mr. Srinivasan is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. There was some media speculation during the first Obama administration that Mr. Srinivasan was in the running for a Supreme Court seat.

Objecting to Mr. Shapiro’s tweet last week, the law school’s Black Law Students Association, wrote on Friday, on behalf of students at the school, asking that Mr. Shapiro’s appointment be rescinded. They said Mr. Shapiro’s comments were racist and misogynistic and that he had a history of publicly “discounting and degrading” non-white women. Their letter cited the case of Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr Shapiro had written in 2009 that former U.S. President Barack Obama had shown that identity politics mattered more to him than merit in picking Ms Sotomayor.

The association also said Mr. Shapiro’s comments pit Black and South Asian communities against each other “in furtherance of white supremacy.”

“I apologize. I meant no offense, but it was an inartful tweet. I have taken it down,” Mr. Shapiro said on Thursday about his tweet.

“I regret my poor choice of words,” he said in another post, saying this had undermined his underlying message which was that someone should not be discriminated against on the basis of immutable characteristics.

“Ilya Shapiro’s tweets are antithetical to the work that we do here every day to build inclusion, belonging, and respect for diversity,” dean Bill Treanor said, as he announced that Mr. Shapiro would be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into whether he violated university policy.

“Racial stereotypes about individual capabilities and qualifications remain a pernicious force in our society and our profession,” Mr. Treanor wrote.

First Amendment (i.e., free speech) groups were among those who supported Mr. Shapiro.

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