5th Circuit, Clerkships, Edith Jones, Law Schools, Politics

Righteous Indignation: The ‘Righter’ Side of Law

Ed. note: This is the first installment of Righteous Indignation, one of Above the Law’s new columns for conservative-minded lawyers.

In this new column, I’ll occasionally be weighing in on legal issues from a conservative, right-of-center political perspective. My aim for my contributions is to balance the liberal heft that regularly gets thrown around on the pages of Above the Law. (That’s got to be a metaphorical scale we’re using to do the balancing, if Elie’s on one end and I’m on the other.)

Where am I coming from that I might alter the usual ATL ideological balance?

In virtually all things, I advocate for limited government, though perhaps not quite as limited as I did back before law school, when I thumped my dog-eared copy of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (affiliate link) as a philosophy grad student. I had a copy of the Eleventh Amendment posted on my last office wall. The jalopy I drove for years proudly displayed a “Ludwig von Mises Is My Hero” bumper sticker. I’m ferociously defensive of individual liberties, the separation of powers, and federalism.

During law school I interned with, and after graduation clerked for, the Hon. Edith H. Jones on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Jones, reputed to be one of the nation’s most prominent conservative judges — and most conservative prominent ones — is a mentor and inspiration for me, though I don’t agree with her on everything. (I can’t say that I agree with anyone on anything, for that matter.)

I routinely identify myself as both a libertarian and a conservative. I have registered as a member of the Libertarian Party when living in states where I could, and I have almost exclusively voted with the GOP in most elections. I “caucus with the Republicans,” you might say. I have had many a conservative complain that I would better be described as a conservative libertarian, not a conservative. I have had even more liberals complain that I ought to describe myself as a libertarian conservative, not a libertarian. Whatever. The Right has room for plenty of debate within its territory, and whatever label might fit me best, it is most certainly not “liberal.” So, quibble over semantics if you’d rather do that than debate the issues. It’s fine. I’ll wait.

Some of you may not like my positions, but I didn’t adopt them through knee-jerk reactions. Though I’m a (blindingly pale!) white woman, I’m also a proud graduate of a historically black law school at a historically black university. While a student, I was a TA and a tutor, I served as editor-in-chief of my school’s law review, and I was active in student leadership, partnering with the SBA president, serving on committees, attending faculty meetings, and generally not blending in for three years.

Race certainly need not mean political or ideological homogeneity, but I can safely say that I encountered more Democrats than Republicans at my law school, likely even more so than I would have at a majority-white institution. (Suffice to say, I may well have been the most devout Clarence Thomas fan at my law school. “Ironic,” I say, but unsurprising among liberal black Americans.) Learning the law from mostly black professors and with mostly black classmates was a rich part of my law school experience, a part that I prize. Part of that experience, though, was knowing what it felt like to be a minority — not just racially but also politically. Voting Republican as a 1L at an HBCU law school when the first black President of the United States was elected to his first term will do that to you, I guess.

In furtherance of my “some of my best friends are liberals” street cred line, I dated and lived with a SCOTUS clerk who worked in the chambers of one of the more unabashedly liberal justices on the Court. While the law and policy battles that raged between us over a routine Tuesday night dinner or while sorting laundry on a Sunday morning could be epic, I never had the luxury of hearing my conservative voice reverberate in an echo chamber. That relationship didn’t change my party affiliation or cause me to disavow my Federalist Society loyalties. Nevertheless, it is impossible to glibly dismiss the other end of the ideological spectrum when you are sharing a grocery list with one of the opposition’s most brilliant and tireless minds.

Continually conversing with a fierce and gifted liberal interlocutor meant that I could never just snicker about how obviously clever Scalia’s latest dissent was or make hand-wave-y gestures about how nobody takes John Rawls seriously. Not unless I wanted my ass promptly handed to me, along with an invitation to sleep on the couch. No. I love debate, and I don’t fear disagreement, but respect for the opposition and the principle of charity govern. Even when I’m, you know, really, really, obviously right.

All that to say: I’m conservative and, yes, I have thought about it a lot.

So, ATLers, I hope you’ll follow me in the coming weeks as my column explores the, ahem, righter side of law and legal culture. For you conservative and libertarian readers, I hope that my musings do our side justice. For the lefties among us, I hope I’ll at least piss you off just enough that you will keep reading. To borrow the immortal words of the great Dave Chappelle, “Haters wanna hate. Lovers wanna love.” In either case, I’m game.

Tamara Tabo is a summa cum laude graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the school’s law review. She has clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and worked as a researcher for multiple projects on the intersection of cognitive science and law, including Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law. She looks forward to a career of teaching and writing about, but never practicing, law. You can reach her at tabo.atl@gmail.com.

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