'Go ahead and cancel me too.' Judge defends embattled Georgetown Law hire

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U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Photo from the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. HANDOUT via U.S. Senate.
  • U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho delivered a surprise speech at Georgetown supporting Ilya Shapiro
  • Shapiro was placed on leave after a series of Twitter posts that some students deemed racist

(Reuters) - Georgetown University’s law school shouldn’t banish a new faculty member over controversial Twitter posts questioning the nomination of a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge James Ho of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told students there this week.

Instead, it should let new hire Ilya Shapiro air his ideas on campus and give detractors the opportunity to counter them, Ho said in a speech Tuesday to Georgetown Law's chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

Ho devoted his speech to the three-week-old drama surrounding Shapiro, who was slated to lead the school’s Center for the Constitution but was put on administrative leave while the law school probes Twitter posts he wrote questioning President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the high court.

“If Ilya Shapiro is deserving of cancellation, then you should go ahead and cancel me too,” said Ho, who was initially supposed to talk about the doctrine of originalism.

Last month, Shapiro wrote on Twitter that Biden’s pledge to pick a Black woman would result in a “lesser” nominee who will “always have an asterisk attached.” He later apologized for his “inartful” words but denied that he violated any university policies. The school’s Black Law Students Association circulated a petition with hundreds of signatures calling for his firing.

Many of Shapiro’s supporters have cited academic freedom, but Ho focused his comments on the First Amendment and larger debates surrounding affirmative action policies.

“If you disagree with Ilya Shapiro—if you think his understanding of the law is absurd, if you think his vision for our country is awful—here’s what I say: Bring him onto campus—and beat him!” Ho said, according to a transcript reviewed by Reuters.

Ho added he and Shapiro have known each other for 20 years.

Nominated to the 5th Circuit in 2017 by President Donald Trump, Ho said "cancel culture" is antithetical to the Constitution and the U.S. legal system.

Reached on Tuesday, Shapiro said he is “gratified” that Ho defended him in his speech. “He’s a mensch,” Shapiro wrote in an email.

Ho also defended Shapiro’s position that race shouldn’t be considered in Biden’s high court choice. Biden's approach itself perpetuates racism, he claimed, in part by suggesting the only way for a person of a particular race to get the job is to “rig the rules in their favor.”

“So let me be clear: I stand with Ilya on the paramount importance of color-blindness,” Ho said.

Read more:

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

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.