Longform

The Merry Revolutionary

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There are titters in the audience.

Bolick calls Clean Elections a tax on the First Amendment.

Elizabeth Daniel, Hogan's colleague, counters that there's no legal reason to oppose it. "Plaintiffs object to the program basically because they don't like it," she says. One defense is that there are all sorts of endeavors in our society funded by public money -- public television, the National Endowment for the Arts, public schools.

Sounds like the Institute for Justice's "to do" list, although Clint Bolick is far too savvy to go after Big Bird.

The Clean Elections supporters were correct: The lobbyist provision was struck down and the court fees stand. The Arizona Supreme Court will decide this month whether to consider the case.


Clint Bolick was born and raised in New Jersey; Dad was a welder, Mom a secretary.

There was no talk of politics in the Bolick household when he was growing up, so Clint's not sure why he was always fascinated by the subject. His earliest political memory is a keen admiration for Richard Nixon, he admits, embarrassed.

When he was 11, Bolick's father died, and the family moved to California. He volunteered on then-governor Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign to get extra credit in social studies and on Reagan's opponent's campaign -- to get even more extra credit.

"But even then my heart was with Reagan," Bolick says.

He returned quickly to New Jersey, eventually graduating from Drew University. Bolick put himself through school working at a grocery store and was actually a member of a union -- forced to sign on.

Bolick hoped the union would strike, only so he could cross the picket line.

From early on (age 4, he insists) Bolick planned to teach school and go into politics. But he was disillusioned after an internship on Capitol Hill and time spent observing public schools. He didn't like the way the political game was played, and he was even less impressed by the quality of inner-city education. He didn't have an alternative plan, until he took a course in constitutional law. Suddenly, the law -- which had always sounded boring and mercenary -- was fascinating. He read Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to school desegregation, and immediately decided Thurgood Marshall was his role model. (To the horror, he admits, of his opponents on the left.)

Today, Marshall remains Bolick's ideal when it comes to strategy, if not philosophy.

"He understood the strategic approach to law, the one-case-at-a-time, baby-step approach to changing the world through legal precedent. He also understood the importance of choosing the right case and arguing cases in the court of public opinion. He understood how valuable a teaching tool the law can be. And conversely, how law can be impacted through public opinion and through seizing the moral high ground. And he was an impassioned and principled advocate."

And so Clint Bolick moved across the country again, this time to attend the University of California's law school in Davis -- which at the time, the late '70s, was a hotbed of liberal activism, particularly with regard to racial preference issues.

Bolick was an instant pariah. By now he understood he was a libertarian, not a conservative, he says, sounding a lot like a young man at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University just discovering his homosexuality.

Looking for an outlet, Bolick found his own personal bath house. He ran for the California Legislature on the Libertarian Party ticket. He got 7.1 percent of the vote -- not bad at all -- and was intoxicated by the experience.

So perhaps he is here in Arizona to run for office.

Absolutely not, he counters quickly, the biography briefly interrupted. Over the years, Bolick says, he's learned that he's "not dispositionally suited to compromise."

But he was well-suited to the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, a conservative public interest law firm founded by controversial Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt and funded by the Coors family in reaction to groups like the Sierra Club.

In Denver, Bolick focused on racial preference and school choice cases. His work drew the attention of the Reagan Administration, and he accepted a job at the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, where he met Clarence Thomas, then the head of the EEOC. (Thomas did not respond to an interview request.)

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.