Frank Chang, John Marshall Fellow 2018
What is your current position?
Law Clerk to the Honorable Jennifer Walker Elrod, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
My family moved to the United States when I was 12 years old, and learning about and buying into the American project was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to devote my professional career to doing something tangibly related to preserving the best things about this country. So I joined the U.S. Army, thereby becoming a naturalized citizen and now serving in the rank of captain in the National Guard. Also I decided to go to law school and learn more about the Constitution and our system of government.
For my current position, it was easy. The idea of the independent judiciary fascinated me early on in college when I learned about the American system of government as a political science major. When I finally decided to go to law school, it quickly became my dream to begin my legal career by serving as a law clerk and witnessing how the judiciary functions.
What are you currently working on?
Lots of bench memos and opinion drafts!
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
From friends who participated in the John Marshall Fellowship and were posting pictures from scenic Newport Beach on Facebook.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
I really enjoyed learning about the Republican Guarantee Clause during class discussions. But perhaps more than that, I enjoyed the “organic” discussions and bonding that occurred as we were strolling through Balboa Island and hanging out in the lounge.
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?
I found unique John Marshall Fellowship’s extensive focus on the continuing relevance of natural law throughout American history as opposed to learning about natural law as a standalone concept. Such a focus not only helped me grasp natural law more practically—as it had practical consequences for and applications in American law—but also understand more easily where we have gone awry with the rise of legal positivism, progressivism, and the administrative state.
If you could have a fireside chat and drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order and discuss?
George Washington. I would order whiskey made from his own Mt. Vernon and ask him about his humility, how to develop the habits of humility in my life, and his thoughts behind declining to seek a third term. (The irony of getting a humble person to talk about his own humility is not lost on me).
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln had to lead the nation when it was divided internally, which must have been more difficult than when everyone is united against one common, external enemy. President Lincoln also presided over a period of time when the founding values of liberty and equality were being lost and had to remind people of that.
Looking through the lens of history, in which one of the original 13 colonies would you have wanted to live and why?
Pennsylvania. This was the hub for all of the colonies: The Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia. James Wilson—who was crucial to our founding—was from Pennsylvania. The early Pennsylvanians, many of them religious dissenters, truly believed in religious freedom for all. Moreover, I think that Washington, DC, as currently situated, is too humid. Thus, as an early Pennsylvanian, I would have vocally fought against the seat of federal government being moved out of Pennsylvania to a swamp near the Potomac River based on a shady deal made between Alexander Hamilton and the Virginians.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
Anything that the soldiers used to survive the cold winter at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. This was an important moment in our founding as many of the founders who were at Valley Forge later recalled the federal government’s ineffectiveness in calling for amending/replacing the Articles of Confederation.
What qualities do you think are needed to achieve great statesmanship in this century and why?
An ability to build relationships, to persuade through dialogue, and be a peacemaker.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Having a common understanding of what the American project has been and should be and persuading people that the American project is still worth preserving and buying into.
If you had the opportunity to present a case before the US Supreme Court, what would you hope it would be and why?
To be honest, I’ll take anything.
What would the argument be if you were to give a speech to a large percentage of left-leaning millennials hoping to convince them the nation’s founding principles are still unique, relevant, and worthy of being preserved?
There is a reason why America became the country to which immigrants from all over the world—including myself—come. The principles of freedom and equality are spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, and the government is constituted to secure those principles. These are not the principles found in the governments of other countries. If we forget these principles, we will no longer be the haven for freedom and opportunity.
What books are you currently reading?
I always try to read something “old” and something “new.” In that vein, I’m reading a biography of Apostle Paul by N.T. Wright as something “old.” Also, I am reading a book about ExxonMobil called Private Empire by Steve Coll. One of the fascinating things about this book has been learning how a corporation handles the struggles of doing business in countries whose governments do not have a strong foundation of rule of law.
What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you and why?
“Enemy at the Gates.” The opening battle scene has caused me to think deeply about different methods of leadership. The Russian soldiers who have been conscripted and are poorly armed are ordered to assault on the Germans’ position in Stalingrad. When the soldiers begin to retreat in the face of the Germans’ machine gun fire, the Russian officers—with their own machine guns—begin to shoot at their own soldiers trying to retreat and escape. To me, this was a depiction of what leadership isn’t.
Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
“ ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’—Wayne Gretzky”—Michael Scott.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
Pennsylvanians are one tough bunch.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
Attending any sporting event with the National Anthem playing and with a color guard. There is nothing more American than that.