Elizabeth Anne Farrington graduated from Hamilton College in 2010.  She received awards in both Russian and history, including the Putnam Prize in American History.  Her senior thesis, which received honors, was supervised by Dr. Christopher Hill, now a Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI).  Liz received a scholarship to attend The Law School, University of Notre Dame.  She received her law degree in 2014 and is now a practicing attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Liz Farrington was one of the first undergraduates to be nurtured by the AHI after its birth in 2007.  She can be seen at the Turning Stone Resort addressing an audience gathered for the AHI’s annual Carl B. Menges Colloquium.  She sat down recently for an interview with current AHI Undergraduate Fellow Amy Elinski.

Tell me about your experience as an undergraduate at Hamilton College.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Hamilton—but I found it deeply frustrating. Hamilton is a beautiful place, a place where I met some exceptionally bright and wonderful people, and I think it has the potential to be a really great school. Some of the administrative decisions, the behavior of certain professors, and a culture increasingly attached to a particular ideology have limited that potential dramatically. Many times when I was at Hamilton, I was flabbergasted by the narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of the school’s initiatives and actions. It affects, in my opinion, both the caliber of student drawn to Hamilton and the quality of student that emerges.

Did you have any particularly hard times with certain professors?

Yes. There are two incidents in particular that I thought troubling.

The first occurred in my freshman year. One of my first papers in college was about Gertrude Stein’s “Three Lives.” I happened not to enjoy the book, and so focused my paper on its failings. When I received the paper back, I was completely horrified to discover that I’d gotten an F. The professor’s comments filled the margins—things like “you write like a conservative,” comparisons to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and the (still absurd) statement that “an intellectual reads with sympathy for the protagonist.” (Apparently the professor had never read “Lolita,” or perhaps had and woefully misunderstood it.) In the end, the professor allowed me to rewrite the paper after I showed due remorse for my deviance. “You said I write like a conservative,” I reminded her when I went to her office. She generously admitted, “That was a bit harsh.” Afterward I was so nervous of expressing any opinion—after all, this was by no means a political paper, and yet apparently I had been immediately unmasked—that I kept a very low profile for the remainder of that year.

The second incident happened much later, after I had become involved with the AHI and felt more confident. It was in the midst of one in a series of fraternity “scandals,” this one concerning a party themed “Golf Pros and Tennis Hos.” There was a beyond-parody little conference held on the very deep offense this party had caused, appropriately called “Words Hurt” and introduced with an email reading: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really, really hurt.” A particular point of offense was that the invitations to the party featured a professional female golfer kissing a phallic-looking glass trophy. It emerged in the course of the discussion that almost none of the enraged professors had even seen the photo, as the Womyn’s Center had snapped up all the invitations very rapidly. After discussion had ended, one professor continued to rail at the hurtfulness of the photo until one of the fraternity members actually showed it to him. He was visibly surprised by its banal lack of sexiness, but quickly recovered to tell us that “any woman” would find the image offensive. I told him that I (the only woman present at this point) had seen the image previously and was not offended. Surprised again, he proceeded to chastise me for being ignorant of the “history of womanhood” and “cut off from my femininity.” Now actually offended, I found myself having to tell a Hamilton professor that I have never felt removed from my womanhood and in fact identify as and rather enjoy being a girl. When I pointed out, after a lengthy exchange, that he was trying to strong-arm me into changing my position by accusing me of, of all things, not being a good female, he quickly back-pedaled. He was simply trying to create an “educational moment,” he claimed. He then congratulated himself on having helped me “crystallize” my views.

One of the ways I measured my growth at Hamilton was that after the second incident I (though still infuriated) felt that I had defended myself and ultimately made my point. Nothing of the kind happened during the first confrontation. I believe I have the AHI to thank for the difference in my response between the two incidents, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

What is your favorite experience from Hamilton?

Many of my best experiences in school related directly to the AHI, which I spent much of my time with. But there were two other major activities that occupied me as well: softball and our newspaper, Dexter. Dexter drained and frustrated us in many ways, but there was nothing quite like seeing the finished product and feeling that we had accomplished something very tangible. In fact, I even enjoyed seeing copies of the paper later strewn about the Diner with “FUCK THIS PAPER” written on them in blue crayon. I knew then that we’d done something worthwhile.

Do you feel you received a well-rounded education at Hamilton?

Yes. Though there are virtually no general education requirements at Hamilton, I had self-structured requirements to ensure that I would not become complacent or overly specialized. In this sense, I cannot overstate the blessing it was to have Professor Ambrose as my advisor. With his help, I was able to avoid some of the more outrageous and aggressive professors, but still manage to diversify my courses. I learned two languages, took math even though I hated it, and studied abroad. At the end of the day, I got a degree of which I could be proud.

How did you get involved with the AHI?

I got to know Professor Ambrose and was beginning to involve myself—cautiously—in the College Republicans when I met Professor Paquette. From there, I just volunteered for everything they proposed because I liked the people at the AHI and thought they were accomplishing good things.

What is your favorite memory with the AHI?

My favorite meetings at the AHI were typically the smaller groups, where talk was most intimate and frank. Presenting my senior thesis in front of the Christopher Dawson Society proved in many ways more fun and challenging than my official honors presentation. But perhaps above all these was the happiness I felt during our first AHI colloquium. Seeing the whole project come together so successfully and seamlessly was a pleasure beyond description. 

Were there any speakers or events with the AHI you found particularly enjoyable?

The AHI did a remarkable job of getting consistent, interesting speakers to come to us. There were so many I enjoyed that I could not name a favorite—but I will say that my association with the AHI led me to attend talks, such as Carla Main’s talk on eminent domain

[Bulldozed:’Kelo,’ Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land (Encounter Books, 2007], on topics I knew absolutely nothing about but felt the better educated for having heard.

What was the AHI like in the early days, from a student’s perspective?

To be a part of the AHI in the beginning was, in a word, exciting. The possibilities energized us and I felt that, even on a personal level, I could impact the future of the entire enterprise. The negative opinion that floated around campus at the time—that the AHI amounted to nothing more than a conservative brainwashing facility—never discouraged us. That may have been partly because a conservative student at Hamilton is leagues more likely to be stubbornly contrarian than susceptible to brainwashing.

What made you choose to go into law?

I watched a lot of Law & Order as a kid, which convinced me that criminals were a diabolically clever bunch and it was hero’s work to put them away. I have now worked as a public defender, prosecutor, and court staff attorney, and have encountered shockingly few medical doctors and sons of political dynasties committing intricate offenses. Dick Wolf misled me in that way. Nonetheless, I have found it rewarding work from every angle and, despite my disappointment at missing out on the gleeful corruption most lawyer jokes hint at, I believe that it has made me more even-handed, open-minded, quick-witted, and compassionate.

Why Notre Dame?

The long version: I had my heart set on Northwestern for law school. Both my parents went to graduate school there and we have many family friends in Chicago. Northwestern requires a 45-minute interview as part of the application process, so I took a few days off in my senior year and flew out there with my mother. As the interviewer read my resume, which conspicuously included indications of my political conservatism and religiosity, the conversation rapidly deteriorated. She managed to force the topic of abortion. I admitted that I was pro-life and Catholic and she demanded that I “keep my religion off her body” (it was quite happy to comply) and accused me of wanting poor women to die in back alleys. When I finally emerged, I was a bit shell-shocked. My mother and I decided that we should drive down to visit Notre Dame, because it was only about an hour away and, as she sagely pointed out, “at least they won’t ask you what you think about abortion.” When I walked on to Notre Dame’s campus, I was overcome by the sense that I belonged there. It was beautiful, the people were almost unnervingly kind and friendly, and they were unabashed about their faith, history, and traditions. Then they made choosing even more effortless by deciding to give me a scholarship. It was probably the easiest decision I have ever made.

The short version is simply that I fell in love with Notre Dame, and that love continues unabated. And I figure that a place that can hold my affection and loyalty even as I go to law school there must do something right.

What law firm do you work for?

I have never worked for a firm, actually. I worked for the St. Joseph County Public Defender’s Office while I was in South Bend, then I returned to my hometown in New Jersey to work for the county Prosecutor’s Office, and now I have ended up in Albuquerque working with the staff attorneys at the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

As an attorney, have you had any memorable cases?

In my experience, defense attorneys have the best war stories. I first worked with misdemeanor clients in the county jail in South Bend, primarily domestic violence cases where the accused couldn’t make bail, and it took some adjusting to work in that environment. The other inmates sat in the tiny gallery as they awaited their turns, heckling each other during the judge’s presentation of the facts (e.g. my first day the judge recited “…and you did touch the victim in a rude, insolent or angry manner, to wit, by pulling her weave,” and everyone exploded with laughter). It had none of the sobriety I had expected for my first appearances on the record. Once I began to get my own felony clients, other concerns emerged—overanxious clients who called my cell at all hours to say they thought the FBI followed them everywhere; those who called their alleged victims from jail and thus forced all the attorneys to listen to their raunchy sex talk to check for anything incriminating; those who confessed that they could not remember the incident due to the twin influences of “tequila and crack,” and, when I made a sound of sympathy, said, “I can tell you’ve been there.” (I haven’t.) I suppose I should mention, though, that my office arrested and began prosecution of Joe Giudice, of Real Housewives of New Jersey fame, and I worked on that case as well before moving to Albuquerque.

Do you have any higher plans than serving as an attorney?

I wanted to be an attorney, so I am very content with where I am. The only higher things I aspire to now are having a family and assembling a winning pub trivia team.

Tell me about your personal life.

I have two siblings: a brother who works in Manchester, and a sister who is a rising sophomore at Skidmore. My significant other, who also lives in Albuquerque, works as a federal judicial clerk. I like logic problems, go through a lot of SPF 70, and use exclusively blue pens.

How did the AHI influence you in your time at Hamilton?

The AHI changed everything for me. I had grown tired of shuffling around Hamilton utterly cowed but felt I had no meaningful alternatives. As the AHI started to take shape and sweep me along with it, suddenly people appeared who would listen to what I had to say—some of whom even proved like-minded. It empowered and improved me. Later, I saw myself in the timid “closet conservatives” I met and valued the opportunity to share the AHI with them. Not everyone is a fighter by nature, and not everyone needs to be. Some do thrive in the trenches, and there is a definite satisfaction to be gained from “smiting them hip and thigh,” as Fr. Neuhaus described it. But I wanted those people who felt unready for that, who hid their beliefs or thoughts, who felt compelled to worship at the altar of conformity, to find the AHI and draw comfort from it. For all the absurdity surrounding “safe spaces” and self-censorship while I was at school, the AHI had created a genuinely safe space for debate; people remained thoughtful and civil even as they addressed controversial and complex issues, and it was a welcoming place.

Did the AHI continue to influence you after you graduated?

Absolutely. For many of us, higher education has become a gauntlet to run. As a conservative woman of faith, I felt that I needed to be better, smarter, more even-tempered and more prudent than everyone else just to avoid being shouted down and shamed. Trying as that could be, I take pride now in knowing that the people I knew in the AHI—not just conservatives, but independent thinkers of all stripes—are better equipped to face challenges after graduation.

Who do you find influences/inspires you most in your work?

I take inspiration from a variety of sources—everything from fictional characters to family members. But in my current work, I need very little external inspiration. I already love what I do.

What do you think of the current state of the U.S. legal system?

There are some things that I can identify as problematic—for example, police officers and prosecutors have significant discretion, and they don’t always exercise that appropriately—but ultimately I think that our adversarial system works as well as anything. Its most significant weakness is the current practice of plea bargaining, but that practice is unlikely to change for practical reasons, e.g. fiscal and case management. 

What do you think of the current state of the U.S. Government?

I disagree with many (most?) of the current administration’s policies and goals. However, I find it hard to take an apocalyptic view of the state of the nation. In fact, our governmental structure has acted as a moderating force on many of the President’s more radical impulses. I am as grateful for that as I’m sure many at Hamilton were during Bush’s presidency, and I remain hopeful that all is not lost.

Who is your favorite president?

Bill Pullman [the actor who played the president in the 1996 film Independence Day].

If you could change one thing about the U.S. Government, what would it be?

Probably the elected judiciary. Though it sounds undemocratic—and in fact it is—my experience suggests that judges are not the more competent, fair, or virtuous for being elected rather than appointed. Judges should decide cases based on law and principle, not on popular opinion; if we are concerned about corruption, increasing oversight on appointments actually strikes me as far easier than oversight on elections (as we have frequently seen). If we are concerned about democracy, we should rely less heavily on the judiciary to form and change our law.

What do you enjoy outside of your work?

I dedicate most of my free time lately to reading, weekly trivia nights, and playing rather abysmal tennis. The rest I spend roaming around Albuquerque with my significant other and eating all the green chile we can anatomically accommodate.