Ilya Shapiro is wrong and yes, Joe Biden should nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court

The lede in the Reuters story is this:

Georgetown University Law Center has placed incoming faculty member Ilya Shapiro on administrative leave while it investigates Twitter messages he posted last week suggesting President Biden’s pledge to choose a Black woman for the U.S. Supreme Court would ensure a “lesser” nominee.[1]

Ilya Shapiro has apparently deleted the offending—he says “inartful”—tweets but denies violating university policy.[2] I will leave the semantics of whether or not those tweets indeed violated policy to others. Shapiro is profoundly wrong for other reasons.

First, his choice of the word “lesser” suggests that competing candidates for nominations to replace Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court suggest that such candidates can be compared on a linear scale. I do not accept such a scale with intelligence;[3] nor will I accept it here.

The view of intelligence as measurable on a linear scale, as with the “intelligence quotient” (IQ), assumes that intelligence is reducible to a single measurable attribute. It assumes, for example, that my own intelligence, such as it is, can be compared to that of an artist or a musician or a craftsperson or to, say, Albert Einstein. This is simply not so. I have my own talents, background, and experience. Others have theirs. That I am utterly incompetent as a musician or an artist or a craftsperson or a physicist says nothing about my intelligence. Nor does that their inclinations and talents direct them in a different direction, reaching entirely different conclusions, say anything about theirs. Such comparisons are asinine, even more so than apples and oranges.

At issue with Joe Biden’s pledge to choose a Black woman is not so much what Shapiro is likely to have meant, that a Black woman will be nominated as a matter of “affirmative action” at the expense of competence, but rather that such a comparison favors a white supremacist status quo at the literal expense of Black lives.[4] The point of nominating a Black woman is to acknowledge injustice and we should not expect that her attributes will be, in sum, directly comparable to those of other justices; indeed, such a comparison is, if anything, even more asinine than one of intelligence.

We should expect, rather, that she will be brilliant in a different way with a different background and a different life experience that I hope will better reflect the profound injustice that people who are not white face in the status quo.

  1. [1]Karen Sloan, “Georgetown Law puts new hire on leave after ‘lesser’ Black woman comment,” Reuters, January 31, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/georgetown-law-puts-new-hire-leave-after-lesser-black-woman-comment-2022-01-31/
  2. [2]Karen Sloan, “Georgetown Law puts new hire on leave after ‘lesser’ Black woman comment,” Reuters, January 31, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/georgetown-law-puts-new-hire-leave-after-lesser-black-woman-comment-2022-01-31/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Cats are smarter than we are. Really,” Not Housebroken, April 5, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/10/30/cats-are-smarter-than-we-are-really/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Stephen Zappala’s resignation would be nowhere near enough,” Not Housebroken, January 4, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/03/stephen-zappalas-resignation-would-be-nowhere-near-enough/

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