The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Ilya Shapiro Reinstated at Georgetown Law, then Resigns

The law school reinstated him on a technicality, but made it clear that they weren't going to uphold the university's free speech policy.


It took Georgetown University Law Center four months, longer than most Supreme Court nominations take to get to the finish line, to investigate a single tweet from Ilya Shapiro. Everyone understands what was going on: the tweet was clearly protected by Georgetown's free expression policy and Georgetown could not in good faith punish Shapiro, but the law school wanted to wait until students were off-campus to avoid protest.*

Yet instead of robustly (or even meekly) defending its own policies, Georgetown found in Shapiro's favor on the technicality that his purportedly harassing tweet was tweeted before he was employed by Georgetown. Finding that he did not yet have employee status also provides a convenient way for Georgetown to deny him access to its grievance procedures.

In any event, Georgetown's report suggesting that he would be under intense and continuing scrutiny, and that if Georgetown constituents were offended by additional "similar" speech of his, he would be subject to termination.

Today, Shapiro announced the Wall Street Journal that he has resigned: "Fundamentally, what Mr. Treanor has done—what he's allowed IDEAA to do—is repeal the Speech and Expression Policy that he claims to hold dear. The freedom to speak is no freedom at all if it makes an exception for speech someone finds offensive or counter to some nebulous conception of equity."

After noting that Georgetown law faculty have not been punished for some rather egregious opinions, Shapiro continues:

It's all well and good to adopt strong free-speech policies, but it's not enough if university administrators aren't willing to stand up to those who demand censorship. And the problem isn't limited to cowardly administrators. Proliferating IDEAA-style offices enforce an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices. Even the dean of an elite law school bucks these bureaucrats at his peril.

What Georgetown subjected me to, what it would be subjecting me to if I stayed, is a heckler's veto that leads to a Star Chamber. "Live not by lies," warned Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. "Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me."

I won't live this way.

UPDATE: And here is Shapiro's resignation letter.

*(As readers may remember, in an awkwardly phrased tweet, Shapiro suggested that DC Circuit judge Siri Srinivasan should have been nominated to the Supreme Court, but because President Biden had pledged to appoint a black woman (which Srinivasan is not), a "lesser" black woman would be appointed instead. Despite an apology and explanation from Shapiro, who asserted quite reasonably that his tweet meant to suggest that Srinivasan was the "best" candidate but would not get the job due to Biden's promise, critics insisted that he was asserting that no black woman would be competent to be on the Supreme Court. To say that this is an uncharitable reading of the tweet and his subsequent explanation is an understatement. My own view on such matters is that everyone should be given a fair opportunity to apologize for and explain a badly phrased message; only people who double down deserve a worse fate. If Shapiro, in response to the controversy, had said that he indeed meant that no black woman could ever be qualified for the Court, that might still be speech protected by Georgetown's policies, but he would deserve the criticism he has received for not saying that.)