I’m told if you contribute to the City Club’s spring fundraising drive, you’ll receive a “pocket Constitution” as a token of their gratitude. You had me at “pocket Constitution.”
I have an unusual fondness for pocket Constitutions. I carry one, and own many. These include pocket Constitutions from (brace yourself) the Republican Party, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute. But this trend of carrying a pocket Constitution is not a conservative practice. And while liberal organizations also issue pocket Constitutions (carrying a pocket Constitution featured prominently in a memorable speech at the Democratic National Convention), neither is it a liberal practice. It’s a non-partisan affirmation of constitutional values.
What a perfect symbol, then, for the City Club—a non-partisan organization dedicated to the constitutional principle of free speech. At the City Club, people of different politics, faiths, and backgrounds come together to trade in ideas. Now more than ever, this is an important mission. As author J.D. Vance remarked during a recent City Club Q&A, “the only way to heal division in our country is to get people in the same space as each other having conversation.” If you know anything about City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop, you know that comment elicited a satisfied smile, because the City Club’s very reason for existing is to provide such a space.
This is not to say the City Club is a “safe space,” at least in the way that term has been used on college campuses of late. While you can be assured of polite and civil dialogue at the City Club, membership offers no promise of being exposed to only ideas with which you agree. In fact, the City Club unabashedly promises the opposite.
These themes were driven home on my very first day as a City Club Board member. It was the first Board meeting following the presidential election. As background, I should say that there is a perception in some circles that the City Club is biased, and not in favor of Republicans or conservatives. If you don’t believe me, note that the City Club blog contains a permalink to a post entitled “Is the City Club Biased?” So what was the Board’s reaction to President Trump’s victory? Anti-Republican rants? Anti-Trump resolutions? Of course not. The conversation centered on how important it is to honor the organization’s free-speech philosophy by ensuring that speakers embody diverse viewpoints, even viewpoints with which some may strongly disagree.
That all happened in my first thirty minutes of my first Board meeting (not your typical non-profit board). But the conversation did not end there. That evening Dan posted on social media that I had joined the Board, and he noted that I happen to be a former law clerk to Justice Scalia. Discussion ensued. Someone asked (apparently without irony) for assurances that the City Club did not appoint a board member who shares Justice Scalia’s views of the law. (I did not point out that in 2003 the City Club awarded Justice Scalia its Citadel of Free Speech Award.) Many others weighed in. And then someone responded with the beautiful words of the City Club’s 1916 charter—“I hail and harbor and hear [persons] of every belief and party.” It is a charter you’ll find reprinted in your City Club Pocket Constitution, not-incongruously alongside the great charter of our liberties.
Contribute to the spring fundraising drive, and get yours.
Louis A. Chaiten is a Partner at the law firm Jones Day and serves on the City Club's Board of Directors.