Federal Judge James Ho spoke truth to power this Tuesday when he switched from his prepared remarks about judicial originalism at Georgetown University Law School to speak up for the embattled scholar Ilya Shapiro.
Shapiro has begun his tenure as director of the law school’s Center for the Constitution on suspension. The reason? This libertarian-conservative had sent out a tweet questioning the racial lens that President Biden had imposed on his upcoming choice for a Supreme Court nominee. Shapiro criticized the president’s decision to only consider black women as potential nominees. Shapiro’s tweets included the inartful words “lesser black woman” in comparison to a male candidate of color that Shapiro considered the best possible choice. Shapiro apologized and deleted his tweets.
After pressure from activist groups, Georgetown placed Shapiro on administrative leave, consigned to the antechamber of the cancelled. Georgetown’s actions seem particularly unprincipled to many considering that one of its faculty had her speech rights stoutly defended by the university after she tweeted that supporters of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination “deserve miserable deaths,” should be “castrated” and have their corpses fed to swine.
It is against this background that Judge Ho switched gears from his original speech and spoke extemporaneously about free speech and cancel culture before a crowd of law students and faculty.
Judge Ho spoke movingly of facing discrimination as a Taiwanese-American law student and young lawyer. But, Judge Ho said, “cancel culture is not just antithetical to our constitutional culture and our American culture … [it is] completely antithetical to the very legal system that each of you seeks to join.”
But that antithesis is becoming the rule in the academy. The search for an offense in a target’s words is turning into an academic reign of terror.
In another a case, in a law class exercise on Civil Procedure II, University of Illinois at Chicago law professor Jason Kilborn included – for the tenth year in a row – a hypothetical employment discrimination case that mirrors real-world tensions. This case involved the use of redacted racial slur and a redacted sexist slur. The actual words were not used in the exercise. For this crime, Kilborn lost his annual pay raise and was tasked to eight-weeks of sensitivity training with 20 hours of course work, five “self-reflection” papers, and weekly 90-minute sessions with a diversity “trainer.”
George Will wrote: “Could those who concocted this sentence ever recognize their kinship with the moral purifiers of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge?”
At the very least, such persecution certainly justifies the use of an overused word, “McCarthyism.” The defenestration of innocent scholars is reaching obscene proportions. Judge Ho shows that the time of politely tiptoeing around such controversies is over.