About 35 percent of his constituents approve of the job Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is doing; 21 percent approve strongly. It's easy to see why his approval rating is somewhat of a mixed bag. Cruz is a strong conservative whose voting record and demeanor are often said to be polarizing among his Senate colleagues.

In spite of this, First Liberty, a law firm dedicated to religious liberty, awarded Cruz with the 2017 Philip B. Onderdonk, Jr. Religious Liberty Award for his efforts on behalf of veterans, the protection of veterans memorials, and his commitment to the cause of religious freedom.

As solicitor general of Texas from 2003 to 2008, Cruz authored 70 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and argued nine times before the Supreme Court, more than any other attorney in Texas or current member of Congress. Cruz had been a volunteer attorney with First Liberty before becoming a senator. The honor was presented to him at the 99th Annual Convention of The American Legion in Reno, Nev.

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty said of Cruz, "Senator Cruz's career has been defined by the defense of liberty, and especially religious liberty. There may be no other attorney in America who has done more for veterans, and the issues of religious liberty they face, than Senator Ted Cruz."

One of his more notable cases involved volunteer representation of The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other veterans organizations in an amicus brief before the Supreme Court of the United States in Salazar v. Buono, a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the cross-shaped Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.

According to the First Liberty press release, "After the Supreme Court ruled that the World War I veterans memorial could remain, Cruz and First Liberty represented the VFW in follow-up litigation to secure the transfer of ownership of the memorial, and the land on which it sits, to the VFW. Thanks in large measure to Senator Cruz, The American Legion and the VFW prevailed and the cross, erected by veterans of World War I in 1934, was preserved."

Though Cruz had a failed bid for president, and has also endured somewhat of a tumultuous reputation as a senator, some conservatives believe that's because of his conservative nature. For example, though he missed many votes and committee meetings due to his presidential campaign, he also worked more with the House on bills as a freshman than any other incoming senator, and introduced two bills that became law.

Still, as this religious liberty award may indicate, Cruz's lasting legacy may be his legal career.

Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.

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