I was out of town most of last week and I wasn’t planning on blogging any more on the increasingly bizarre saga of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, which as of the current moment appears to be entirely unsubstantiated. But I was surprised to see Brian Leiter’s post doubling-down in his defense of Warren–and calling me a “Stalinist” to boot (although I confess it is not clear why or how he is using that term). So I hope you will indulge me while I respond.
First, let me say again what I expressed at the outset–I have known from highly-credible sources for a decade that in the past Warren identified herself as a Native American in order to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences (I am certain that Brian knows this now too). She was quite outspoken about it at times in the past and, as her current defenses have suggested, she believed that she was entitled to claim it. So there would have been no reason for her to not identify as such and in fact she was apparently quite unapologetic about it at the time. As for the current kerfuffle, at most she has said that she can’t recall whether she did so as part of the Harvard process but hasn’t addressed whether she did so earlier in her career (raise your hand if you “don’t recall” whether you ever considered yourself to be a minority). And, of course, Harvard must’ve gotten the information from somewhere (and as has been noted, it couldn’t have been from the AALS Directory, which doesn’t fine-grain the classification to that extent). Warren has been mum on the topic as to whether she ever checked the “Native” box at some point and has ignored Scott Brown’s requests that she release her employment applications, such as her AALS form.
For those who still claim to be uncertain about this note one final point–that the only competing explanation that she has offered is that she identified herself as minority only in order to find similar people with whom to have lunch. There is no option C–either she did it only to find people with whom to have lunch (which she acknowledges never actually happened) or she did it at least in part to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences. Moreover, note that the arguments are not symmetrical–she and her defenders must be claiming that she had zero intent to put herself in position to gain a hiring preference by identifying as a minority. My impression is that there are some people who really want to believe that there is some other explanation–but there isn’t. That’s the only alternative. So if you want to question whether she intended to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences then you must be implicitly endorsing her “lunch” explanation. If so, then please come on out and say expressly that you endorse her explanation. Because those are the only two options on the table. So if you disagree with what I’m saying and questioning my sources then please state that you are endorsing what she said.
Second, Brian seems to believe for some reason that the issue here is whether Warren actually benefited from a hiring preference. Of course it is not (as my post makes eminently clear). The issue I raised is whether Warren made assertions as part of the law school hiring process in order to put herself in a position to benefit from a hiring preference for which she had no foundation. Whether she actually benefited from resume fraud is beside the point, just as it was beside the point whether Yahoo’s recently-sacked CEO gained that position because he claimed to have a computer science major 20 years ago. Would it matter if he could demonstrate that he would have been hired to be CEO anyway even if he hadn’t lied about having a computer science degree? I don’t think so–or at least it didn’t matter to Yahoo’s directors. (In fact, we at George Mason rescinded an offer to a candidate a few years ago because we discovered that the person had misrepresented his/her resume). Or consider another example–would it matter if a tenure candidate had plagiarized, say, three articles, if he had a sufficient number of non-plagiarized articles to be granted tenure? I would hope not. (Although I acknowledge that Harvard may have different standards on this issue.)
Third, regardless of why she did it,Warren herself actually had no verifiable basis for her self-identification as Native American. At the very least her initial claim was grossly reckless and with no objective foundation–it appears that she herself has never had any foundation for the claim beyond “family lore” and her “high cheekbones.” And, in fact, the accuracy of the statement is increasingly falling into question. To the extent that any supporting evidence has trickled out, it has not been provided by her (nor, interestingly enough, did she ever expressly endorse anything that was produced by others). Now it turns out that the New England Historical Genealogical Society, which had been the source for the widely-reported claim that she might be 1/32 Cherokee, has rescinded its earlier conclusion and now says “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.” The story adds, “Their announcement came in the wake of an official report from an Oklahoma county clerk that said a document purporting to prove Warren’s Cherokee roots — her great great great grandmother’s marriage license application — does not exist.” A Cherokee genealogist has similarly stated that she can find no evidence to support Warren’s claim. At this point her claim appears to be entirely unsupported as an objective matter and it appears that she herself had no basis for it originally.
Fourth, Brian’s post also states the obvious–that there is plenty of bad blood between Elizabeth and myself. But, of course, the only reason that this issue is interesting and relevant today is because Warren is running for the U.S. Senate and is the most prominent law professor in America at this moment.
So, I guess I’ll conclude by asking the obvious question: if a very prominent conservative law professor (say, for example, John Yoo) had misrepresented himself throughout his professorial career in the manner that Elizabeth Warren has would Brian still consider it to be “the non-issue du jour“? Really?
I’m not sure what a “Stalinist” is. But I would think that ignoring a prominent person’s misdeeds just because you like her politics, and attacking the messenger instead, just might fit the bill.
Update: Sorry, I forgot to mention this report about Texas and Penn, that indicate that she was listed as white at Texas and at U Penn records that list her as minority faculty there in at least one context but her full employment records haven’t been released there.