This Is No Time for Groveling

By now most readers are familiar with the Ilya Shapiro “controversy.” I use sneer quotes because, like virtually every cultural outrage these days, it’s aggressively dumb, clearly a bad-faith hit job perpetrated by deeply unhappy ideological fanatics without hobbies, and the target of the mob’s ire has said something true, if also sloppily, on Twitter.

Bari Weiss has provided the necessary background, as well as the standard classical liberal call for Georgetown Law to live up to its commitment to freedom of expression—just as it did when a Georgetown professor tweeted during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018: “All of [the white men defending Kavanaugh] deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Briefly, Ilya Shapiro, late of the Cato Institute, was tapped to be the next executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, beginning February 1. That is, until he made the mistake of posting some tweets of his own about who should replace the retiring Justice Stephen A. Breyer. (A good rule of thumb: Don’t use Twitter.) The now-deleted tweets read:

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. But alas doesn’t fit into the latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman. Thank heaven for small favors?

Because Biden said he’s only consider[ing] black women for SCOTUS, his nominee will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.

Predictably and nearly immediately thereafter, there were strident calls from groups such as Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association for Shapiro to be fired from his new position. Just five days later, on January 31, Shapiro was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. That same day, Georgetown Law Center Dean Bill Treanor weighed in, explaining in a letter to the student body that he “ha[s] heard the pain and outrage of so many at Georgetown Law” and making it clear that Shapiro’s tweets “are antithetical to the work that we do here every day to build inclusion, belonging, and respect for diversity.”

In the midst of this firestorm (I won’t minimize the subjective experience of it, which I’m sure is harrowing), Shapiro has apologized, once in an email to the Georgetown Law community, and then again on Twitter. It reads precisely as one would expect it to—as groveling.

Who knows if Shapiro will keep his job. Regardless, here’s what he should have said:

I have heard the calls for my metaphorical head to be placed on a metaphorical spike because of my views about the proper way to pick a nominee to the Supreme Court, that is, not by ruling out up front everyone except those who are of a certain favored race and sex. The most-qualified person should get the nod. It’s unfortunate that merely saying as much in a couple of late-night tweets can inspire such an unhinged response from a vocal, but influential, minority of people.

At this point, the “appropriate” and “decent” thing for me to do is to apologize, insist I do not have a racist or sexist bone in my body, and beg for a second chance. But if that’s what you were waiting for, you’re about to be sorely disappointed.

I will not apologize.

An apology is properly given only to those who can be trusted to accept it in good faith. Nobody currently calling for me to lose my position with Georgetown Law fits that description. Not even close. 

Anyone with eyes and even a shred of decency knows that the mob is deliberately, cynically, and viciously twisting my words in an attempt to destroy me. In the current climate, calls for an apology are nothing more than the weaponization of decency against those too naïve to see what’s happening here. I am saddened that disgraceful charades like this one are now routine occurrences in this country.

But more than that, I’m deeply disappointed that so many students at one of the nation’s top law schools are engaged in such a bad-faith, malicious attack. The legal profession demands men and women of upright moral character to appear before our courts; those engaged in this smear campaign have revealed themselves to be many things, but morally upright is emphatically not one of them. Perhaps even more distressingly, members of this online mob appear to lack the reading comprehension skills of even an average seventh grader. That such people have passed through Georgetown Law’s admissions standards should alarm the law school; it needs to seriously rethink those standards.

I would rather not have this job than damage my soul by “apologizing” for something I obviously did not say. And, if Georgetown Law and I do indeed go our separate ways, I’ll at least have my integrity intact.

Can you imagine?

All we need is one person to say out loud what we’re all thinking. Who will be the one to announce, boldly and without caveats, that the emperor has no clothes? Who will release us from this moronic pantomime of serious debate?

Whoever they are, they can’t come soon enough.

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About Deion A. Kathawa

Deion A. Kathawa is an attorney who hails from America’s heartland. He holds a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is a 2021 alumnus of the Claremont Institute’s John Marshall Fellowship. Subscribe to his “Sed Kontra” newsletter.

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