I Won't Be Canceled
Not how I planned my career transition, but happy to seize the moment
When I accepted a job with Georgetown Law, I thought it would a great opportunity to have a different kind of impact on public affairs. After nearly 15 years at the Cato Institute, having become a vice president and published a best-selling book on the Supreme Court, I was looking for a new challenge. Well, that’s what I got, but it wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it.
Shapiro's Gavel is a reader-supported. To receive new posts, consider subscribing.
By now, you know my story. In late January, when news of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement broke, I tweeted in opposition to President Biden’s decision to limit his nominee pool by race and sex. I argued that Sri Srinivasan, the chief judge of the federal appellate court based in D.C.—who also happens to be an Indian-American immigrant—was the best candidate, meaning that everyone else was less qualified. So if Biden kept his promise, he would pick what, given Twitter’s character limit, I characterized as a “lesser black woman.” Then I went to bed.
Overnight, a fire storm erupted on social media. I deleted the tweet and apologized for my inartful choice of words, but stood by my view that Mr. Biden should have considered “all possible nominees,” as 76% of Americans agreed in an ABC News poll. (I stand by that view to this day.) But it was too late. My ideological opponents were out for blood, or at least my new job—even before I was due to assume it on Feb. 1.
That day, January 27, was the second-worst day of my life, after another January day nearly 25 years ago when my mom died. I thought that I had blown up my life and killed my career. Everything I had worked hard for over decades, the sacrifices my parents made in getting me out of the Soviet Union, the life my wife and I were building for our two young sons—all of it was crumbling. Over a tweet.
Never mind that no reasonable person acting in good faith could construe what I said to be offensive. It’s willful miscomprehension to read my tweet to suggest that “the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman,” as Dean William Treanor did in a statement that afternoon, or that I considered all black women to be “lesser than” everyone else. Although my tweet could’ve been phrased better, as I’ve readily admitted many times, its meaning that I considered one possible candidate to be best and thus all others to be less qualified is clear. Only those acting in bad faith to get me fired because of my political beliefs would misconstrue what I said to suggest otherwise.
Thanks to some friends and allies with public platforms and private backchannels to Dean Treanor—ranging from fellow Substacker Bari Weiss to my new favorite organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and many more—I wasn’t fired during those initial four days of hell. Instead, I was onboarded and immediately placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into whether I violated any university policy. That investigation continued for more than four months of purgatory, during which I was prohibited from doing any work as executive director of the Center for the Constitution or even setting foot on campus.
It’s become clear now that the investigation, led by human resources and the office with the Orwellian title of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action (IDEAA), was a sham. And that the process was the punishment. On June 2, about a week after the semester ended and students left campus, I was reinstated on the technicality that I hadn’t been an employee when I tweeted and so wasn’t subject to discipline under the relevant policies.
I celebrated that technical victory in the pages of Wall Street Journal, but further consideration showed that Georgetown had made it impossible to fulfill the duties I had been hired to perform. After full analysis of the IDEAA report that hit my email inbox later that afternoon, and after consultation with my lawyer and trusted advisers, most notably my wife—a better lawyer than all of us—I concluded that remaining in that job was untenable.
I won’t rehash the explanation here; you can read all about it in another Wall Street Journal oped, and indeed in my June 6 resignation letter. But suffice it to say, Georgetown had implicitly repealed its vaunted free speech and expression policy and set me up for discipline the next time I transgressed progressive orthodoxy. Instead of participating in that slow-motion firing, I resigned.
I never intended to become a poster boy for cancel culture. Nor do I intend to let these past five months define my life and career trajectory. But I’m using this moment, this platform, this opportunity I’ve been given, to shine the light on the rot in academia and, more broadly, the illiberal winds blowing across American society.
I also have a new job, as senior fellow and director of constitutional studies at the wonderful Manhattan Institute. “MI,” as it’s known, describes itself as “a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.” That sounds pretty good to me, and I’m delighted to join old friends and make new ones at an institution I’ve long admired.
Although MI has legal scholars who do excellent work in areas ranging from criminal justice to civil litigation and the administrative states, it’s never had a constitutional focus as such. So this is a natural fit and the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.
Both within that day job and beyond, I will remain in the arena, trying to influence the climate of ideas in areas ranging the First Amendment and federalism to civil rights and pushing back on the administrative state. I published a dozen op-eds during my purgatory, most of which weren’t autobiographical! And I’ll be continuing my work watching the Supreme Court, particularly with the paperback edition of my last book coming out July 5. Another thing I did during my Georgetown leave was update Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court to include the confirmation battles over Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
With my newfound “lived experience,” I’ll also be commenting on culture and politics. I’m just a simple constitutional lawyer, but I do have views and insights on the broader world, which I look forward to sharing with you.
I care deeply about this country and believe it’s man’s last, best hope for freedom in this world. That means constitutionalism, it means (classical) liberal values, and it means gratitude for the tremendous opportunities we enjoy here—and why so many people from all over the world still want to come and live the American dream.
What you can expect here
At Shapiro’s Gavel you’ll find everything from legal and constitutional analysis to thought pieces about the state of America. I commit to writing one op-ed-length piece weekly and plan to post more frequently, incorporating audio and video content as I get the hang of this amazing Substack platform. You’ll find stuff here you won’t find when I write for the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Newsweek, and other places. I’ll also be able also to give you my observations on things like travel and movies, and “deep cuts” into the Constitution and Supreme Court that might not otherwise make it into traditional media.
As a subscriber, you’ll get all my regular posts. These will be free forever. Of course, this is a reader-supported initiative, so if you choose to become a paid subscriber ($5 per month or $50 per year), you’ll get (1) special posts and access to the full archive; (2) the opportunity to post comments and join the community; (3) occasional zooms or other interactive opportunities; and (4) my sincere gratitude.
There’s also a higher subscriber level for those who want to become a “founding member” ($250 annually). In addition to that lofty title and even more gratitude, you’ll receive a signed copy of my book, Supreme Disorder.
Join me on this journey. Let’s see where it goes.