Ilya Shapiro Weighs in on U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision to Uphold Ban on Race-based Admissions

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Ilya Shapiro
Professional Overview

On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the United States Supreme Court supported a Michigan constitutional ban regarding race-conscious action programs. Individuals who opposed the use of racial preferences admired the court's ruling, while supporters of using affirmative action to advance ethnic and racial diversity on college campuses conveyed their concerns. Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, stated, "This case was about the democratic process and whether voters can rein in the powers of their state government."

He elaborated further on his blog when he wrote:
"This case was so easy precisely because it didn't involve the fraught question of whether states can pursue race-conscious measures in order to achieve (some mythical) diversity. Instead, it was about the democratic process and whether voters can rein in the powers of their state government. The answer to that question, like the answer to the question of whether the Equal Protection Clause mandates racial preferences, is self-evident."
I asked Mr. Shapiro a few questions about the Cato Institute. When asked what it is and what his responsibilities are in it, he noted:
"Cato is a public policy center-or "think tank"-that approaches a wide variety of issue areas from a libertarian perspective. I'm in the Center for Constitutional Studies, where I edit the annual Cato Supreme Court Review, direct our amicus brief program (having filed nearly 200 in the Supreme Court), write articles and blog posts, debate and speak around the country, and provide commentary to broadcast and print media."
He has contributed to a variety of publications. Will he continue his writing and speaking engagements? "Yes, this is part of my job, the part that provides the most instant gratification!"

Before joining Cato, Mr. Shapiro served as a special assistant and advisor to the Multi-National Force in Iraq on rule of law matters. He also practiced antitrust litigation, commercial, political, and international law at Patton Boggs and Cleary Gottlieb. Mr. Shapiro is well know for contributing to numerous academic, popular, and professional publications, which include the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, USA Today, L.A. Times, National Law Journal, Weekly Standard, National Review Online, New York Times Online, and the Wall Street Journal. He also frequently provides commentary for a variety of media outlets, which include NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, CNN, NPR, The Colbert Report, Telemundo and Univision, and the American Public Media's Marketplace.

Mr. Shapiro has offered testimony to state legislatures and Congress, as coordinator of Cato's amicus brief program, filed approximately two hundred "friend of the court" briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court. He lectures frequently for the Federalist Society as well as other groups, was an inaugural Washington Fellow at the National Review Institute, is a member of the Legal Studies Institute's board of visitors at The Fund for American Studies, and has been an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School.

Mr. Shapiro is a member of the bars of the District of Columbia, New York, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before entering private practice, he clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Mr. Shapiro was born in Moscow, Russia, and he grew up in Lindsay, Ontario. He attended high school in Toronto and he received his A.B. from Princeton University, where he majored in public and international affairs. Mr. Shapiro obtained his M.Sc. in international relations from the London School of Economics and earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where he became a Tony Patiño Fellow. He is a native speaker of Russian and English. Mr. Shapiro is also fluent in French and Spanish, and is proficient in Portuguese and Italian.

When the fearless attorneys isn't working, he enjoys reading, writing, traveling, sports, and figuring out how to parlay his reading and writing into travel and sports. Mr. Shapiro said, "I hold season tickets to the Washington Capitals and subscribe to the Shakespeare Theatre Company."

When asked about his favorite author, he claimed, "I love Ernest Hemingway's writing style (my favorite is A Farewell to Arms)-I assigned excerpts when I taught legal writing, along with Sports Illustrated articles and inaugural addresses-and always strive to be concise yet artful."

Does Mr. Shapiro have a favorite restaurant? "I loved Al Crostino, this small Italian place on U St. in DC-when I was courting my wife, we called it our "Tuesday place" because of the specials they had-but alas, it recently closed."

Mr. Shapiro Memories and Motivations

Why did Mr. Shapiro decide to go to law school? "I always knew I wanted to go to law school because it would combine applied social sciences, public affairs, writing, and speaking-all things I wanted to pursue in my career."

Does he have a most memorable law school experience? Mr. Shapiro acknowledged:
"During my 3L year I was slated to be the captain of the men's B team for the annual national law school softball championship (which our A team ended up winning), which is hosted by the University of Virginia Law School. But then my school's Japan Law Society got a bunch of money from some Tokyo law firms-who presumably hoped that their associates would get accepted into our LLM program-to organize a trip to Japan for spring break. The Japan Law Society was quite small, however, so they solicited statements of interest from the larger student body. I decided to apply, noting that I didn't know much about Asia but experience and language ability relating to Europe and Latin America, so could round out the group. They bought it, so instead of Charlottesville, I spent 10 days in Tokyo and Kyoto. It was a tremendously rewarding trip, and to this day my only time in Japan."
How long has Mr. Shapiro been an attorney? "It depends on how you define that term, I suppose, but I got my JD in June 2003 and became a member of my first bar (NY) in January 2004."

Why did he decide to become an attorney? "I've long been fascinated by political institutions and how legal rules shape society. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with a law degree, but I knew I wanted to work in a law-related field."

What are Mr. Shapiro's practice areas? "Well, my 'practice' is limited to amicus briefs, with a focus on the U.S. Supreme Court. We file in important cases that lend themselves to clear libertarian positions: Primarily constitutional law, with healthy doses of international, election, immigration, employment, environmental, securities, antitrust, and others."

What is the best part of his job? "I love the variety-both in terms of substantive law/policy and functionally-and how my work is relevant to the leading issues in legal and political discourse."

What is Mr. Shapiro known for professionally? "I'm known for my energy, breadth of knowledge, and sense of humor. There are plenty of people who know more constitutional law than I do, and even more who are funnier, but I occupy that small bit of the Venn diagram where those skills overlap."

What are his strengths and weaknesses as an attorney? "I'm a creative thinker, strong writer, and good speaker. I'm not so good at document review and other more tedious tasks (often but not exclusively related to discovery)."

What area of the law is Mr. Shapiro most passionate about? "Constitutional law - because if the government gets out of control, everything else is lost."

Is there an area of practice he would like to develop further into? "The intersection of constitutional and international law will only become more prominent in the future, so I need to keep an eye there."

If Mr. Shapiro were not a lawyer, what would he most probably be doing? "I actually joke that I'm a 'recovering' lawyer, so I imagine that without the JD, I'd be involved in public or international affairs in some other way."

Where does he see himself in five years time? "My wife and I would like to start a family, and so I think we'll move out to the Virginia suburbs (from downtown DC). Professionally, I'm very happy where I am, but if someone offers to double my salary while having the same impact, or some other unique opportunity, I'd obviously have to consider that."

What motivates Mr. Shapiro to be an attorney everyday? "I get to fight for individual liberty every single day, and have fun doing it."

How does he want to be remembered? "I'm a little too young (36) to think about that!"

Clerking for Judge E. Grady Jolly, Practicing Law at Patton Boggs and Cleary Gottlieb, Serving as a Special Assistant/Advisor to the Multi-National Force in Iraq, and Providing Testimony to Congress and State Legislatures

Mr. Shapiro clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. How was this experience? He admitted:
"My clerkship was truly transformative. Judge Jolly was and continues to be a great role model both personally and professionally; he even officiated my wedding last year. A clerkship, especially an appellate one, is where the rubber of theory hits the road of practice. I learned to be a better lawyer, a better writer, a better person from my one year in Jackson, MS. Going to New Orleans regularly for oral argument didn't hurt either."
He practiced law at Patton Boggs and Cleary Gottlieb. Why did Mr. Shapiro decide to leave? "I gained legal skills and made good friends at Cleary and Patton Boggs, but I left Big Law because I was offered my dream job. What I do at Cato-straddling the legal, political, academic, and media worlds-is a much better fit for me than practicing corporate law."

What did Mr. Shapiro learn as special assistant/advisor to the Multi-National Force in Iraq? He asserted:
"I was essentially a special aide to the Staff Judge Advocate (head JAG), then-colonel Mark Martins (now a brigadier general who's the lead prosecutor in Guantanamo). What I did there was part legal advice, part PR (trying to get media back home to cover something other than casualties and car bombs), part enhancing information flow among those working on rule-of-law issues, which included people from different agencies and countries, and both civilian and military. I learned about the management and operations of large organizations, as well as about the military, to which this was my first exposure."
Mr. Shapiro has provided testimony to Congress and state legislatures. What did he discuss during his testimony? Was Mr. Shapiro able to influence Congress and state legislatures? He explained:
"I've given Senate testimony on campaign-finance regulations and stand-your-ground laws. I've provided testimony to many state legislatures on the (un)constitutionality of Obamacare and, lately, in support of the Compact for America (an elegant method for amending the Constitution). The state testimony has definitely moved the ball, but congressional hearings of my kind-with expert witnesses called by both sides-are generally kabuki theater and don't accomplish much beyond scoring political points."
Being an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University Law School, Speaking Multiple Languages, Pro Bono Work and Non-profit Organizations

What motivate Mr. Shapiro to teach? "I was given the opportunity, so I went for it. I like interacting with students and wouldn't teach something I'm not passionate about. I taught legal writing for two years, and then had to give it up because my schedule got too unpredictable. I think in [the] future I'd like to teach the occasional seminar on constitutional law or Supreme Court practice."

Where did he have time to learn the languages he speaks? Mr. Shapiro replied:
"I grew up speaking Russian, then in school had a couple of years of Latin-which helps with everything- especially French and Spanish. I spent a summer in Quebec and a semester in Argentina, and then took Portuguese for Spanish-speakers in college, and Italian in law school. Whenever I travel, I reinforce all these languages. I get a chance to use my Russian and Spanish professionally, but the others I really have to work to maintain."
Does Mr. Shapiro handle pro bono work? He stated:
"All of my work is pro bono, in the sense that Cato is a non-profit organization that seeks to advance certain public interests. Indeed, on the many amicus briefs that we farm out to big firms, I'm in the in-house counsel of the firms' pro bono client. When I was in private practice, I handled various small pro bono matters, culminating in a bench trial in DC family court-my first and only appearance in a trial courtroom."
Is he involved with any non-profit organizations? Mr. Shapiro said:
"In addition to my employer, I have various levels of involvement with the Federalist Society, Institute for Humane Studies, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, America's Future Foundation, The Fund for American Studies, the Harlan Institute for Constitutional Education, and a few more that I'm probably missing. I also donate to a variety of policy, arts, education, and charitable organizations."
Mr. Shapiro Goals and Final Thoughts

Does Mr. Shapiro have goals? "I'd like to have a big impact on public policy, get compensated well for it, and have fun doing it. And I'd like to be a good husband and father. Simple, really."

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself personally or professionally? "I'm an immigrant-Russian by birth, naturalized Canadian, now a green-card holder. I actually just passed my naturalization test (clinched it by being able to name branch of government) and am due to be sworn in as a citizen this summer. Like most immigrants, I do a job most Americans won't: defending the Constitution."

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