The Volokh Conspiracy

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2024 Texas Review of Law & Politics—Jurist of the Year


On April 13, 2024, I was honored to accept the Jurist of the Year award from the Texas Review of Law & politics. Perhaps more importantly, I was quite pleased to see the Josh Blackman Bobblehead. I stand in some great company.

Here is the audio, where you'll hear comments from two very special guests.


And here are my prepared remarks:


Thank you so much for the introduction, Judge Ho. It is the honor of a lifetime to be up here. But in candor, I'm not sure why I'm here. When Adam Ross told me that I was selected as the 2024 TROLP jurist of the year, my immediate reaction was, to quote Wayne's World: "I'm not worthy." Let's do a survey of the 25 TROLP jurists of the year who came before me. There were two Supreme Court Justices: Scalia and Thomas. There were ten lower-court federal judges: Jones, Starr, Smith, Owen, Garwood, Pryor, Willett, O'Connor, Elrod, and Ho. There were four Senators: Cornyn, Lee, Cruz, and Cotton. There were three Solicitors General: Olson, Coleman, Clement. There were two Attorneys General: Meese and Abbott. There was only one law professor who was jurist of the year: Lino Graglia, a giant in the law, who received the award when he was eighty years old.

Then there's me. I'm not a judge, and I don't consider myself a jurist. I've never held any appointed or elected governmental position. I am not, nor have I ever been, an "Officer of the United States." I've never argued a case before the Supreme Court, or any appellate court for that matter. I did not attend, and do not teach at an elite law school. To quote another classic piece of American pop culture, Sesame Street, One of these things is not like the other. Relatedly, I think my TROLP bobblehead is the first one with curly hair.

So, why am I up here? I'm still not entirely sure. But I'd like to use my brief time at this podium to convey a message: this can be you. If I can be up here, so can you. To state the issue more bluntly, I don't want to be the only one up here. I want each and every one of you to find your path to this stage. As I'll explain, it will not be easy. There will be many forces pushing back against you. There is no glidepath to getting your very own bobblehead. But I am ready to help. Indeed, I try by word and deed to model the behavior it takes to get up here. If you'll indulge me, let me offer five tips.

Lesson #1—Guard your time wisely and jealously

No matter who you are, there are twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week. Nothing, short of a time machine, can change that. So when someone says "I don't have the time to do X" what they are really telling you is that they prefer to spend their time on Y. To be sure, we all have commitments–work, family, recreation, sleep, and so on. (I assure you, I do sleep, just not at the same times you do.) But at bottom, we all choose how to spend our time. Earlier in your career, it will be up to you to seek out opportunities to spend your time. For the students in the room, you should learn to say yes more than no. That is how you get ahead. When more senior people realize you can do stuff, and do it well, they'll ask you to do more. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But as you progress and grow, there will be increasingly more demands on your time. Now, you must learn when to say no and when to say yes. I need to learn to say no more, but it is a challenge. Throughout all stages, however, you must guard that time both wisely and jealously. And how do you choose how to spend your time? That brings me to my second point. 

Lesson #2—Use your time to follow your purpose

Why are we all here at this dinner for the Texas Review of Law & Politics? At one level, we're here to have a nice dinner and snag a shaggy bobblehead. But at a deeper level, I think we're all here for a more profound reason. Everyone in this room shares a collective sense of purpose: the Constitution, the rule of law, and civil society. We can argue and debate about the precise contours of those precepts, but we agree on the big picture. Our republic today is on a shaky foundation, and only through a rededication to the Constitution and the rule of law can our civil society be preserved. Your purpose is something bigger than yourself. And you must commit yourself to that purpose.

I am fortunate that I realized my purpose in this movement at a fairly young age. I think it happened at some point during my first year of law school at George Mason, now Scalia Law. And I think those who have joined TROLP had a similar epiphany. Indeed, TROLP is a pillar in this movement. The TROLP Mission statement defines that purpose well: TROLP "publishes thoughtful and intellectually rigorous conservative articles—articles that traditional law reviews often fail to publish—that can serve as blueprints for constructive legal reform." I've published many times in TROLP for that precise purpose. And those articles have been cited by scholars and courts for that reason.

So let's put the first two lessons together. How do you choose to spend your time? Choose to spend your time to pursue your purpose. Which brings me to my third point. What do you do with that time?

Lesson #3—Use your G-d given talents to your fullest to have the greatest impact possible

Earlier I said that we all have the same exact amount of time. No matter how you slice it, there are exactly twenty-four hours in a day. What we choose to do during those twenty-four hours defines us. Along with finding your purpose, you should candidly evaluate what are your strengths and weaknesses. As Law & Economics teaches us, "Do what you do best, and trade for the rest." We all have G-d given talents, and we should use them to our fullest to have the greatest impact possible.

I've been blessed with several gifts, including the ability to write quickly and speak plainly. I'm not the smartest person around, but I will always try to work harder than anyone else to pursue my purpose. Again, purpose is what motivates. And never doubt what one person can accomplish.

I'd like to give you some numbers. These numbers aren't to boast, but instead to demonstrate how much impact one person can have, and perhaps inspire others to take some action. As I'll explain in a few moments, I can't do everything myself.

I started teaching at the South Texas College of Law Houston in 2012. Over the past twelve years, I've taught about 40 classes, with about 2,500 students. There are about 100,000 lawyers in Texas. By my rough count, I've taught about 1 out of every 50 Texas lawyers. 

Outside of my law school, I've spoken at roughly 500 events, about 300 of which were at Federalist Society chapters. With a conservative estimate, I've spoken in person to about 25,000 law students over the years. And based on United Airlines records, I've flown about 750,000 miles to attend those events. That is the equivalent to traveling around the circumference of the earth thirty times, or three trips from the earth to the moon. 

I've written three books, with a few more in the pipeline. I've published about seventy-five law review articles. And I've been quoted or cited in about 2,500 media stories. That's a lot of fake news. 

My YouTube channel has had over one million views and 175,000 hours viewed. If you were to do nothing but watch my channel, 24×7, you would be stuck in front of a screen for about twenty years. I suspect some law students today have in fact watched the equivalent of twenty-years of YouTube videos, though hopefully not all on my channel. 

Now I'm often asked why I do all of these things? As my dean would attest, outside of teaching classes, none of these extracurriculars are required. The answer is simple: to pursue our goal of saving civilization, I try to reach out to as many people as I can–students, people who read blogs, people who read and listen to the media, and so on. Wherever eyes and ears exist, I will be in front of them. It is frankly hard to avoid me. Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage." I say, "all the world is a classroom." Every mile I travel, every speech I give, every word I write is aimed towards a singular goal: educating as many people as I can.

Let me now tie together our three threads. You should use your time to pursue your purpose, using your talents to their fullest potential. Though I must caution you. If you take these actions, there will be forces trying to stop you, or even cancel you. Which brings me to my fourth point.

Lesson #4—Use your time to take bold positions, and expect to be booed

There will be many internal obstacles to pursuing your purpose. How do you find the time? And what do you do with that time? But there are also external obstacles. The views that we in this room hold are not popular in elite society, especially in legal circles. What we do is unpopular. Trust me, I know. I've taken the "wrong" side on virtually every legal issue of the day: Obamacare, the Second Amendment, DACA/DAPA, the travel ban, the Emoluments Clauses, the special counsel, both of Trump's impeachments, January 6, insurrection, 3D-printed guns, a religious right to abortion, and so on. I also criticize those on the right who fail to follow a principled jurisprudence. What is my reward for these actions? I've been protested and heckled. But the problem is not limited to woke students. I am regularly attacked on social media by fellow law professors, including a soon-to-be-former member of your faculty. Left-wing publications scorn me as a demagogue. Directly and through intermediaries, judges even castigate me for my writings. The least dangerous branch is also the most sensitive branch.

I've been called every name in the book: a fascist, a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe, evil, and even anti-semitic. Shavua Tov everyone, from the first Jewish, and anti-semitic TROLP jurist of the year. I've learned at least one lesson from President Trump: the more bad things people say about you, the less sting those comments have. After a while, I don't even notice these attacks. It helps that I also quit social media–you should do the same. A second thing I've learned from Trump is that I live rent-free in their heads. They detest me so much, but can't stop talking about me. Free publicity is always helpful.

Judge Ho often speaks about how people fear being booed. And that fear controls their actions. To avoid upsetting critics, or causing any controversy, people will shy away from difficult topics, and simply fall into line. Let me state my point clearly: to get up here on this stage. you cannot be afraid of being booed. If you do the right thing, you should expect to be booed. Indeed, if I ever take a position, and I'm not booed, I question whether I did the right thing. Never jump on band wagons. If there is some position that everyone else has already taken, you can sit it out. But if there is some lonely position, that everyone is afraid to take, stand for it. Be like Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. That is where your focus should lie.

The primary reason why I go to all of these law schools, where I will be derided, if not heckled, is to demonstrate through word and deed how others should stand up to critics. I want to model behavior that students can learn from. My sincere hope is that if students see me weathering these attacks, and surviving, they will realize they can do the same. I don't fly hundreds of thousands of miles, and wake up in random hotel rooms, for fun. I do it because I hope to inspire generations of law students that they too can take a stand. Perhaps they are not yet on the Federalist Society speaking circuit, but even in a classroom, a law review board meeting, or on a law firm pro bono committee, they can take a stand. I will take the arrows, so others know the path is safe.

Let me tie together the four strands so far: use your time to do that which others will not do.

Lesson #5—Never forget what is important to you

The fifth lesson is perhaps the most important. It is very easy to get swept up and carried away in the movement. Law and politics can be all-encompassing. Resist the urge. Find a way to disconnect from the tussle, and focus on what matters. It can be a hobby, your faith, your family, or something else. But despite all of your other commitments, leave time for that personal outlet. For me, that is my family. Indeed, I think we would all agree that family is a core value of any conservative institution. I am blessed to be joined today by my family. I deeply regret that my mom Iris, of blessed memory, did not live to see this moment. She would have been proud.

Monday through Friday, I make a concerted effort to sign off between 5:30 p.m., when I pick up my girls from school, and around 9:30 p.m. when they (finally) get to sleep. If you send me an email during that time, I probably won't reply. I am present during dinner time, and play with them after. And recently, I started to abstain from the internet on the sabbath, from sundown on Friday night till sundown on Saturday night. No email, no chat, no streaming, no tweets, nothing. Shabbat allows me to reconnect, and spend time with my family, uninterrupted. This change has been life-altering, and I would recommend it for my non-Jewish friends.

I can't tell you how you should spend your off-time, but make sure you maintain it. As hard as any of you work, this time to recharge your batteries will make you even more effective.

Let's tie together all five threads: use your time to do that which others will not do, and to do that which only you can do. 


I thank you very much for your time and attention. I still don't think I'm worthy of this distinct honor. But my closing plea is that in the future, one of you in this room will be up here. I'll be there to give you a standing ovation. But in the meantime, prepare to be booed.