Zachary Reynolds

2019 John Marshall Fellow

What is your current position?
Law Clerk for the Honorable Edith H. Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Starting late September, I will begin working as Court Counsel for the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau.

What inspired you to choose this career path?
Law, in one form or another, governs nearly everything we do, and law is intrinsically linked to the discussion of what is “good”.  Statutory law is the policy side of that discussion.  Although attorneys have little to do with policy formation, we operate on the post-formation (and equally important) side of law: Interpretation.  How one interprets law is as important as the other foundational elements of the Rule of Law because it gets to the meaning of the rule.  Consistency, faithfulness, and impartiality matter very much to good law; if you don’t believe me, look at Bostock from this past term.  I wanted to work in that.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I learned about the Claremont Institute during my time in the graduate program at Hillsdale College.

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
There are too many vying for attention, ranging from getting ticketed for J-walking, to late night discussions in the hot tub, to interacting with our many accomplished speakers.  But the memory that stands out the most is dinner the final evening, which involved a riotous discussion ranging along deeply fissured theological and legal grounds.  That night cemented what I hope to be life-long friendships.

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?
Claremont dares to teach a perspective that is little heard in today’s era.  Not merely in that it is conservative, but in that it seeks to locate contemporary conservatism in the rich history of our founding and natural law.  Agree or disagree, it’s not a perspective that can be lightly passed up.

Who would you hope the individual would be, if you could sit down and enjoy a meal with an American Founder or any great thinker?  What would you discuss?  Where would you like to meet?  What would you order to eat/drink? 
I would love to have a meal with one of the earliest Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and American Founder, James Wilson.  Wilson receives less attention than many of the other Founders but was immensely influential, particularly his “Statehouse Yard” speech, which is second only to the Federalist Papers in generating support for ratification.  He wrote a serious of law lectures delivered at what is today the University of Pennsylvania, in which he discusses natural law and evinces some skepticism of its role in influencing positive law.  I would love to delve into that topic.  I am not partial as to where we met, but a solid scotch, perhaps Lagavulin, to honor Wilson’s heritage, would be a necessary compliment to the evening.        

What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country?  Why?
The key Ben Franklin attached to his kite.  You see it, right?

In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live?  Why?
Likely Pennsylvania.  An immense number of historically significant events occurred there, and Philadelphia served as a central point for the colonies’ organization and governance during the Revolution and early years of the United States, including serving as the nation’s capital for a period of time.

Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln?  Why?
This an impossible choice, but I would have to answer Washington.  Washington was indisputably the most unifying figure during the founding era and likely the only person who could have served as head of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States.  During those early years, cohesion was the only thing that enabled the fledgling nation to successfully fight against the British, and had the U.S. fallen to internal division in the wake of the Revolution, the American experiment would never have gotten off the ground.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Hyper-politicization.  Everything is political: a red sunset means there is too much rust in the air; a located missing-child means that Child Protective Services was underfunded; a shooting instantly transforms into a nationwide conversation about gun-control.  Tragedy, celebration, and beauty, even virtue itself, becomes intimately linked to politics, and partisanship reigns supreme.  Eventually, competing political views assume a religious aspect.  In such an environment, reasoned discourse is abandoned and common ground shrinks to a nullity.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in attempting to reach and convince a large percentage of millennials the nation’s founding principles are still relevant and must be preserved?
Relativism and national original sin, two irreconcilable concepts, grip the minds of many millennials.  On the one hand, preservation of our founding principles requires belief that certain truths are enduring because they are woven into the fabric of creation and the nature of man.  Circumstances and application of those principles may change, but accedence and adherence to those principles must remain.  Yet modernity spurns absolutism and objectivity.  At the same time, revisionist history of the American Founding, championed by the 1619 Project, AP U.S. History, and BLM, teaches that there are irredeemable sins in our origin, tainting the entirety of American history, for which propitiation can never be made.  The burden of guilt coupled with the fog of relativism saps national and individual pride and denies truth.  Why cling to the errors of the past, and why seek to know what is no longer true?

What qualities will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?
Two things: first, the ability to apply principles to circumstances faithfully or the virtue of prudence; second, integrity­­­—concerns of reelection and power should always be subservient to doing the right thing.  To paraphrase one of my favorite Representatives from the 1990’s, a statesman must never need the office more than it needs him.

What would you hope the subject would be, if you should find yourself presenting a case before the US Supreme Court?
The trouble with this question is that it is tempting to presume a conservative outcome, an uncertain eventuality in light of the Court’s current composition.  Eschewing, therefore, some of the more morally hazardous questions, I would love an opportunity to ask the Court to revisit the incorporation doctrine.

When working as a research assistant on the official bio of Sir Winston Churchill was there something about the man you were very unaware and that took you by surprise?
I could offer random Churchillian trivia in answer to this question (e.g. Churchill was once gifted an African lion named Rota); the man’s curiosity was insatiable and his quirkiness legendary.  A story with a moral offers more insight, however.  During WWI, Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty.  In an effort to circumvent and abbreviate the horrors of trench warfare, Churchill and other military leaders organized the Gallipoli campaign.  The Dardanelles affair, as it came to be known, ended in disaster; over 100,000 allied troops were killed or injured before the campaign was abandoned, and Churchill wrongly received all the blame.  The reality was a far more complex narrative of competing strategies, interests, and leaders.  At the conclusion of the tragedy, which left a permanent stain on his record, Churchill commented that he would never again accept responsibility for something that he did not have the authority to accomplish.

What do you see as one of the greatest threats to our Religious Liberty?
Cancel culture and the rise of “offense” as morality’s new metric. 

What do you think has been the major contributor to the demise of our country’s lack of political civility?
As I mentioned above, hyper-politicization attaches a religious aspect to partisan beliefs.  Contravening those beliefs is no longer about discussion and dialogue, now each side is competing for survival, legitimacy, and conflicting definitions of right and wrong.

What do you think has been the major contributor to the redefinition of our culture in the 21st century?
Access to information.  I think that it is hard to underestimate the impact of a 24-hour news cycle, fact-checking, and internet research.

What books are you currently reading?
Shane by Jack Schaefer, The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers, and The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

What book, movie, or speech has left a lasting impression with you? Why?
Lincoln’s “Lyceum Address” because it paints such a vivid picture of the dangers to America and offers such a wonderful paean to patriotism.  As during Lincoln’s time, so today: the greatest danger to our nation come from within, and Lincoln tells us of the principles we must adhere to in order to avoid that peril.

Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
T.S. Elliot: “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender which an age of prudence can never retract.”

What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
The euphemism is repeated so often that it has become cliché, yet it still rings true: Texans are friendly.  This point was lost on me until I left home, first for California, then Michigan, then Illinois.  I met a great many wonderful people in those places, but the simple day-to-day interactions—strangers waiving as you passed them, cashiers asking about your day—diminished or disappeared. 

What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby)? Why?
During law school I started rock climbing in earnest, partly as a means of staying in shape and partly as a release from the pressures of the academy.  As physically demanding as climbing can be, it is also an exercise in mental gymnastics.  You have to think three, four, five moves ahead.  Otherwise you climb yourself into a corner and have to start over.