A Meaningful Decision

He is a jurist on the second most powerful court in the country, a lifelong advocate for civil rights and educational equality, and the proud one-year partner of Fidelco guide dog “Vixen.”

The Honorable David S. Tatel sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was appointed to the Court in 1994 by President Clinton, filling the seat previously held by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He is the first person who is blind to assume this position. A Maryland native, David began to lose his sight from retinitis pigmentosa after graduating from law school in 1966.

While David originally intended to become a scientist, his career path changed to one of public service after spending two summers working in the Kennedy Administration while an undergraduate. David says his advocacy for civil rights and educational equality resulted from two formative experiences: his appointment, early in his law career, as an investigator on the Chicago mayor’s Riot Study Committee probing the causes of the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and a keen interest in his wife Edie’s work as a teacher in Chicago’s South Side public schools.

After law school, David joined a prominent Chicago law firm where he also provided pro bono support to the Chicago Urban League. In 1968, he was assigned to the Riot Study Committee, and the following year, he became founding Director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law which facilitated pro bono partnerships between prominent law firms and community groups to pursue civil rights work.

David stands in a stream with his guide dog Vixen
Honorable David S. Tatel and his guide dog, “Vixen”

Returning to the East Coast in the early 1970s, David directed the National Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., and in 1977, he became the Carter Administration’s Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. As a senior partner in a D.C. law firm, David founded and directed the firm’s education law practice which provided legal counsel to colleges, universities, education associations, and school districts across the country with a focus on representing urban school districts creating school desegregation plans.

While he considered getting a guide dog for many years, David was successful with white cane travel and under the impression he would have to travel to a residential facility for training—something he couldn’t do due to his work schedule. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that one of his young grandsons shared a podcast about a guide dog training program that would consider training clients in their home communities. David and Edie conferred about this prospect and decided to pursue it. They met with friends who answered their questions about Fidelco Guide Dogs, spoke with other Fidelco clients, and ultimately chose to apply to Fidelco.

While he has enjoyed a rich and fulfilling life (including running marathons and skiing), David and Edie credit Vixen with giving David back the independence he had gradually lost. Edie states, “Vixen has changed our lives in so many wonderful ways. We both have so much new independence and deep joy because of her. What she’s given David is amazing. Off they go to the courthouse or on walks together, sometimes just to the mailbox or around the block, but often for many miles and many hours. He hasn’t had this kind of autonomy for 45 years.” David relishes his new-found opportunity to spend time on his own with Vixen as his walking companion. He enthusiastically says, “It’s a liberating experience.” David and Edie marvel at Vixen’s skills as a guide dog, ably guiding him through Washington Metro stations and traffic and familiarizing herself with frequently visited office buildings. They also note that once out of harness, Vixen is a wonderful pet.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, David and Edie are living in rural Virginia where Vixen is enjoying country life—going for long walks, running more freely, barking at groundhogs, and her favorite pastime, chasing sticks. But the Tatels know that whenever Vixen is back in-harness, she will be the hard-working Fidelco guide dog they rely upon.

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