TCS Daily

Wedding Bells in Purple America

By Ilya Shapiro - October 4, 2006 12:00 AM

A few weeks ago was Constitution Day. This out-of-the-way end-of-summer non-holiday celebrates the signing of the hand-scrawled four pages of parchment that changed the world by setting the new model for self-governance.

That the day gets less attention, outside the halls of government and legal academe, than similar commemorations of trees (Arbor Day) or pumpkins (Halloween) or clovers (St. Patrick's Day) is of no moment, because in celebrating those other -- less fusty -- things, we honor the founding document's conception of liberty.

And so it is fitting that I found myself marking the coming together of the several states into a more perfect union at a wedding, that blessed ceremony uniting two souls into a different kind of venerable institution.

What is more, these particular nuptials conjoined a nice girl from Atlanta who ventured to college (and survived) at NYU -- "about as different from home as I could get" -- with a brash yet soft-spoken ex-Marine from Arizona. Their variously cultured journeys led them, as is to be expected in this David Brooks fairy tale, to be lawyers in our nation's capital. They met at a Federalist Society function, bless their vast-right-wing-conspiratorial hearts.

Yet my mere presence on their special day was a bit of a lark. I was only invited a few weeks before and hadn't even met anyone in attendance until I slinked into one of the last pews at Georgetown University's Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

I had, however, formed a remarkable friendship with the Georgia peach and one of her bridesmaids over gmail chat (a form of instant messaging). It seems that my column -- this column -- had become a sort of required reading in the sacred chambers that were the special bond I shared with these two lovely gals (and with another bridesmaid, on whom more later).

The four of us had all spent a magical year in Jackson, Mississippi clerking for a man who can only be called the jurist's jurist, E. Grady Jolly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. (Technically the bride clerked for the judge across the hall, but her good cheer won over the Jolly coterie.) We're sworn to secrecy as to our in-chambers discussions -- and on what the "E" stands for -- but, with all due respect to Epstein, Sunstein, Posner (both of 'em), and the rest of the University of Chicago pantheon, Judge Jolly taught me more about law than I have any business knowing. And writing. And life.

But enough about me. What you most need to know about this wedding is its special, and utterly appropriate theme. When I got my table card at the reception, it said I would be at the James Madison Table. (One of the head tables, which I shared with the aforementioned bridesmaids -- an energetic bundle of joy and a brains-'n'-beauty belle who inexplicably counts both LSU and Ole Miss as alma maters -- and which the bride had graciously assigned me after I IM'd her that I'd be picking up her option on the black tie.) Looking around I saw tables named after Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, John Jay, and other Founders.

Here we were in highly Democratic Northern Virginia -- albeit near the Pentagon -- honoring the lives of the decidedly politically incorrect (and unabashedly liberal only in the classical, real, sense) Founding Fathers. Indeed, when the caterer wheeled out a "groom's cake" adorned with a creamy bas-relief of the father of the Constitution, the wedding story had come full circle.

The Madison silhouette, you see, is the logo of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a group founded on the principles "that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be."

As I took mental snapshots of the night's high points -- watching revelrous vets egg on the father of the bride, dancing to Sinatra, drinking champagne and Guinness with distant Minnesota cousins -- it went to that same conception of the good life, of ordered liberty, of a strong and proud (and dare I say Purple) America.

And so I remember falling asleep that night (Sunday night, not the post-wedding dawns' early slumber) to the happy thought of a Constitution that may endure even the slings of the Kennedy Court and the post-modern judiciary it leads. May Libby and Spencer similarly watch over a flourishing republick of their own, passing down the best traditions of those who made it happen while fostering new happiness in the name of the American Dream.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last "Dispatch from Purple America" showcased an innovative program combining sports, education, and society.


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