According to 3L Gage Dabin: The First Amendment Doesn’t Belong to One Political Party
By Suzi Morales
It’s a weeknight in Arlington. People mill around at after-work happy hours. A group of students jogs by, talking animatedly as they go. Catching a piece of their conversation, they seem to be discussing what seems like an unusual topic: the Interstate Commerce Clause.
This is third-year Scalia Law student Gage Dabin and his running buddies. “We’re all Con Law nerds,” he says. Dabin and his classmates began running to decompress after their Constitutional Law class during their second year at Scalia Law. Their conversations during a typical 3-mile run range from trivial chats to in-depth discussions on the topics they are learning in class. They don’t always agree with each other, and that’s fine with Dabin. “One of the most dangerous things are echo chambers,” he says.
Dabin’s enthusiasm for discourse began well before law school.
Dabin grew up in a military family, attending 14 schools throughout the country, including a high school in Alaska that he says was the second most diverse school in the country. He recalls playing soccer with Hmong and Brazilian classmates and seeing the native Alaskan dancers that performed regularly at the school.
As an undergraduate journalism student at Centenary College, he wanted to be a war correspondent until courses on international courts and democracy in ethnic conflict changed his mind. “I wanted to serve in my own capacity but when I was in undergrad, I took these courses and I saw that, you know, there were lawyers that were able to represent people who were victims of crimes against humanity and genocide,” he says. “This is something I want to do.”
Dabin chose Scalia Law because of its national security program; proximity to Washington, D.C.; and affordability.
At Scalia Law, Dabin’s activities have reflected his desire to engage with diverse opinions. During his second year, he participated in the First Amendment Clinic. With the Clinic, Dabin’s work included educating high school students about the state of First Amendment law and representing local agencies on issues related to free speech zones.
He praises the Clinic for bringing in speakers with a variety of viewpoints, like Margie Phelps, controversial lawyer and daughter of Westboro Baptist preacher Fred Phelps, who represented the church before the Supreme Court in the 2011 case in which the Court determined the church had a right to stage anti-gay protests outside of military funerals.
“The First Amendment - if you’re going to believe in it, if you’re going to fight for it - the amendment doesn’t belong to one political party, it belongs to the people of the United States,” he remembers one guest speaker with the Clinic saying.
“It can be really challenging sometimes. It can really cut at what you believe in as an individual,” to encounter disparate viewpoints, Dabin notes, but he emphasizes the importance of letting people speak their beliefs. “We’re going to operate in the same community.”
Dabin also participates in the Discussion over Division program, which pairs students with differing viewpoints for conversation.
Dabin recalls his first dinner with another Discussion over Division participant. He and the other student were sitting at a local restaurant surrounded by the buzz of conversation when he noticed other diners flashing them quizzical looks. “Why are they talking about immigration policies?” Dabin says he could imagine the other diners thinking, “Why are they talking about abortion?”
Dabin hopes to bring his family’s military background and his interest in diverse viewpoints to the Judge Advocate General corps. He served as a legal extern with the Air Force during his second-year summer and has applied to the Army, Navy, and Air Force JAG.
Until then, he’ll continue to share and debate ideas with his classmates. “Scalia Law has done a fantastic job of changing some of my views,” he says. “I love that.”