Changing Your Mind

Very few people have exactly the same views today as they did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, you would have to question the intellectual curiosity of someone who never changed their mind on anything; it is more likely that they stopped thinking altogether.

Yet this is what we seem to expect of our elected officials. If they ever change their views or evolve in their thinking to a different conclusion, they are accused of flip-flopping or opportunism. Sometimes it probably is political convenience, but I wonder more about the person who never changes than the one who reverses field.

I took most of my first real positions on issues while in college. I decided that because I was for limited government and personal freedom, I should be a Republican. I saw crime in absolutes and was therefore in favor of the death penalty and against the legalization of drugs. I couldn’t figure out a real rationale for the Vietnam War, so I was skeptical of nation-building and the use of U.S. troops to be the world policeman.

One day while interning for U.S. House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes, I announced to his staff that, after months of agonizing over the issue of abortion, I had decided that I was pro-choice. His press secretary sarcastically told me that he would alert the media.

That was a long time ago, and since then I have seen a lot, from inside and outside government. In that time, I like to think I have learned a few things. Most views have stayed the same, while others evolved. And some I have decided that I was just wrong about in the first place. I used to think that marriage had to be between a man and a woman. Now I believe strongly in gay rights across the board; it is a civil rights issue for me now. I supported decriminalizing most drugs and mandating treatment over incarceration because my experience taught me that without treatment there would be no progress for the individual or protection for society. I used to favor civil forfeiture prior to criminal conviction until I saw so many instances where, because of the money involved, no criminal prosecution ever occurred or was even seriously contemplated.

As Attorney General, I worked hard to restore the implementation of the death penalty in Arizona. We were successful, and many horrible murderers were executed. The victims’ families were grateful, and it felt like justice was served. But I am increasingly troubled by the prosecutions of arguably innocent people across the country. The recent case of the West Memphis Three is a powerful call to reexamine whether we can trust men and women, some who may act in bad faith or at least without competence, to decide the life or death of our fellow man. I am thinking a lot these days about that one. Again.

I guess that’s the point here. It is constructive to continue to measure your views on important issues against your experience in the real world. It is important to listen to the point of view of those who disagree with you. This nation is polarized politically today in part because our leaders and their followers only listen to those within their own echo chamber. As lawyers, we should appreciate the importance of debate and of examining the evidence impartially and logically. It is all right to change your mind. It is all right to hold firm to your long-held opinion. But it is not all right to stop thinking. Opinions in the magazine are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the State Bar of Arizona, its Board of Governors, the Editorial Board or staff. The magazine provides an open forum for readers. Send your own letter to AZ


Grant Woods