Eric Wessan

2019 John Marshall Fellow

What is your current position?
Solicitor General of Iowa

What inspired you to choose this career path?

After graduating college, I served as the Vice Consul for Policy & Communication in the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the Chicago Consulate General. That role took me across the Midwest, and I fell in love with Iowa. I spent significant time here in the run up to the Iowa Caucuses and the 2016 election, where I was consistently impressed by the dedication Iowans had to their integral role in the political process. After graduating from law school, I took both the Illinois and Iowa bars. When Attorney General Bird invited me to join her administration, I jumped at the opportunity to oversee Iowa’s appellate litigation docket.

What are you currently working on?

In my role as Iowa’s Solicitor General, I oversee all appeals for the state. That includes both criminal and civil appeals—although much of my focus is on the civil side of the docket. Some recent high-profile cases include a challenge brought against Iowa’s school-masking ban and defending Iowa’s fetal heartbeat bill.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

Professor John Eastman came to the University of Chicago Law School to accept an award given by our Federalist Society Chapter my first year of law school. From that point forward, the Claremont Institute was on my radar. I wanted to learn about Lincoln and the American Founding from the best, and was further encouraged by the excellent attendees of the John Marshall Fellowship from the University of Chicago Law School.

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?

My fondest memory of the Claremont Institute were the late nights with the other fellows, discussing natural law and natural rights. Specifically, getting deep into the weeds about which rights are “inalienable.” Turns out, sometimes a purportedly inalienable right can be alienated! Perhaps my favorite conversation was one dealing with the practicalities of criminality with two of my co-fellows on our return to the hotel one late afternoon.

There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?

The Claremont Institute’s Fellowships are unique for the high quality of the fellows that it brings together. Having 10-15 fellows together for a week or weeks at a time gives an opportunity to really explore deep ideas. Being able to do so with relatively like-minded fellows is an experience that few other organizations can offer.

Who would it be, why, and what would you discuss, if you could have a conversation with an American Founder?

I would love to have a conversation with Governeur Morris, the peg-legged defender of the energetic presidency. Morris was an integral part of the drafting team for the United States Constitution, and We the People of the United States have much to thank for his efforts. Discussing with Morris his understanding of the proper role of the people in our democratic republic would be fascinating.

Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?

During law school I read biographies of every president in order. As I approached Lincoln, I expected to be disappointed—who could live up to the reputation of the man who held together our house divided? Instead, I was awed. Abraham Lincoln’s role in protecting, supporting, and saving our country is a contribution that has not been matched by any other individual. While George Washington is perhaps undervalued today—especially by those, like me, with too much education—for the important and formative role he played in our young republic’s history, Lincoln was the great man that America needed at the right time.

What qualities do you believe will make outstanding leaders in this century?

Courage is the greatest quality needed by outstanding leaders this century. Never before have leaders been subject to the scrutiny and pressure from so many institutions to do what is easy or convenient. It can be lonely doing what is right when every influential institution around a leader is counseling other courses of action. Humility, too, is important but not as important as maintaining the courage of one’s convictions.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States?

The United States is the greatest moral and economic power in world history. But with such wealth has come complacency and a belief that because institutions work now they will always work going forward. For example, that tendency may lead to insufficient support for police or an overindulgence for criminality—and then to criminals hurting innocent Americans.

Moreover, new modes of communication and living are being created that do not share many institutional safeguards and risk real harm to people’s mental well-being. For example, and despite any valid critiques leveled against the mainstream media, the type and tenor of news promulgated through social media is at an entirely different frequency. The effect of those types of communications on people is poorly understood.

A rejection of America and what it stands for coupled with the fracturing of American society, perhaps even to the atomization of an individual, is a great structural challenge facing the United States.

What book, speech, music, or film has left a lasting impression with you and why?

Two books that I think teach important lessons about humanity, and that have stuck with me through the years, include The Centurions by Jean Larteguy and Confessions by Saint Augustine. Both explore how people grow and change over time.

What books are you currently reading?

I recently read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which I quite enjoyed. I also read Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh which was excellent. And I am almost done with Boss by Mike Royko—a great exploration of the first Mayor Richard Daley. Once that is done, I will turn to Democratic Justice: Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court, and the Making of the Liberal Establishment by Brad Snyder.

What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?

While I grew up in Connecticut, I recently moved to Iowa. While everyone knows Iowans are friendly, people are less familiar with the integral role that Iowans play in the quadrennial political process. Iowans from all over the state keep themselves well-informed on important political and policy issues. It is wonderful to see the general level of engagement by Iowa’s voters and citizens in the political process.

What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?

I love to walk, to wander, and to explore. America is this giant, beautiful country full of places that I have never seen or heard of. Whether it is renting an RV and exploring the American Southwest or picking exits off of I-80 on the road from Chicago to Des Moines to hop off and see the local sights—like the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. From Wall Drug in South Dakota walking from Calle Ocho to mid-beach in Miami, there is a whole lot that you can enjoy on a long enough stroll. And if the stroll is solo, plenty of time to listen to podcasts or books-on-tape on the way!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years I could see myself in one of three places. First, continuing as a public servant here in Des Moines, Iowa. As the youngest Solicitor General in the country (and in Iowa’s history) I have had a unique opportunity to serve. I would love to continue in public service. Second, I could continue in public service in Washington, D.C. I do not know that there is any role that could entice me to that Capitol from this one—but I never write anything off. And third, I could be in Chicago, which was my entryway to the Midwest after my Northeastern upbringing. In any of my roles I hope to still play an active role in supporting the causes, issues, and people that I care about.