Federalist Society: Wikis


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Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies

The Federalist Society logo, depicting the silhouette of James Madison's bust
Type legal
Purpose/focus To promote the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.[1]
Location Washington, DC
President Eugene B. Meyer[2]
Website http://www.fed-soc.org/

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, most frequently called simply the Federalist Society, is an organization of conservatives and libertarians seeking reform of the current American legal system[1] in accordance with a textualist and/or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. The Federalist Society began at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School in 1982 as a student organization that challenged what its members perceived as the orthodox American liberal ideology found in most law schools. The Society asserts that it "is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be."[1]

The Society currently has chapters at over 180 United States law schools and claims a membership of over 20,000 practicing attorneys (organized as "alumni chapters" within the Society's "Lawyers Division") in sixty cities.[1] Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C. Through speaking events, lectures, and other activities, the Federalist Society provides a forum for legal experts of opposing views to interact with members of the legal profession, the judiciary, law students, and academics.[1]



The Society looks to Federalist Paper Number 78[3] for an articulation of the virtue of judicial restraint, as written by Alexander Hamilton: "It can be of no weight to say that the courts, on the pretense of a repugnancy, may substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature.... The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body."

Its logo is a silhouette of former President and Constitution author James Madison, who co-wrote the Federalist Papers. Commissioner Paul S. Atkins of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission considered Federalist Society members "the heirs of James Madison's legacy" in a speech he gave in January 2008 to the Federalist Society Lawyers' Chapter of Dallas, Texas. Madison is generally credited as the father of the Constitution and became the fourth President of the United States.[4]

The Society's name is said to have been based on the 18th-century Federalist Party;[5] however, James Madison associated with Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to Federalist Party policies borne from a loose interpretation of the Commerce Clause. The Federalist Society's views are more associated with the general meaning of Federalism (particularly the New Federalism) and the content of the Federalist Papers than with the later Federalist Party.

Funding and history

The Federalist Society is funded by member dues and by grants, many from conservative organizations.

The society was begun by a group including Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Ted Olson, David M. McIntosh, and Steven Calabresi, and its members have included Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito.[6]

Aims and membership

In working to promote the ideology set forth in its "Statement of Principles", the Society has created a network of intellectuals occupying all levels of the legal community. The Student Division has more than 5,000 law students as members, and the Society draws on the national office's network of legal experts to provide speakers for differing viewpoints at law school events. The activities of the Student Division are complemented by the activities of the Lawyers Division, which comprises more than 20,000 legal professionals, and the Faculty Division, which includes many professors of law and jurisprudence and other legal specialists in the academic community.

The Society seeks to debate constitutional issues and public policy questions, and this commitment extends to inviting speakers who do not agree with the society's principles. For example, past invitees include Justice Stephen Breyer and law professor Alan Dershowitz, two legal authorities who disagree with many of the Society's views. Society member and UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explained this willingness to discuss other views by writing, "We think that a fair debate between us and our liberal adversaries will win more converts for our positions than for the other side’s."[7] In the words of Dan Lowenstein, a Democrat and political appointee of former California governor Jerry Brown, "The Federalist Society is one of the few student organizations putting on public events that contribute to the intellectual life of the law school."[7] The Federalist Society's guide to forming and running a chapter of the society claims that the organization "creates an informal network of people with shared views which can provide assistance in job placement."[8]

Federalist Society members helped to encourage President George W. Bush’s decision to terminate the American Bar Association’s nearly half-century-old monopoly on rating judicial nominees' qualifications for office. Since the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the American Bar Association has provided the service to presidents of both parties and the nation by vetting the qualifications of those under consideration for lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary. The Federalist Society believed the ABA showed a liberal bias in its recommendations.[9][10][11] For example, while former Supreme Court clerks nominated to the Court of Appeals by Democrats had an average rating of slightly below "well qualified," similar Republican nominees were rated on average as only "qualified/well qualified." In addition the ABA gave Ronald Reagan's judicial nominees Richard Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook its lowest possible ratings of "qualified/not qualified".[12] Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly-cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.[13]

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "About Us, Our Background". The Federalist Society. http://www.fed-soc.org/aboutus/id.28/default.asp. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  2. ^ "Board of Directors". About Us. Federalist Society. http://www.fed-soc.org/aboutus/id.30/default.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  3. ^ "Conservative & Libertarian Pre-Law Reading List". Federalist Society. http://www.fed-soc.org/resources/id.65/default.asp. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  4. ^ Atkins, Paul S. (2008-01-18). "Speech by SEC Commissioner: Remarks at the Federalist Society Lawyers' Chapter of Dallas, Texas". SEC. http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2008/spch011808psa.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  5. ^ Landay, Jerry (March 2000). "The Federalist Society". Washington Monthly. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2000/0003.landay.html. 
  6. ^ "Giuliani hitches star to conservative legal group". Chicago Tribune. 2007-09-06. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-070905giuliani,0,1519010.story. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  7. ^ a b Volokh, Eugene (June 3, 2001). "Our Flaw? We’re Just Not Liberals". Washington Post. http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/fedsoc.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  8. ^ "Right Wing Organizations". People For The American Way. May 2006. http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=3149. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  9. ^ Batkins, Sam (2004-08-12). "ABA Retains Little Objectivity in Nomination Process". Center for Individual Freedom. http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/legislative_issues/federal_issues/hot_issues_in_congress/confirmation_watch/aba_little_objectivity.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  10. ^ Lindgren, James (2001-08-06). "Yes, the ABA Rankings Are Biased". Wall Street Journal. http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=95000927. Retrieved 2006-08-21. 
  11. ^ "ABA Ratings of Judicial Nominees". ABA Watch. Federalist Society. July 1996. http://web.archive.org/web/20010710135604/www.fed-soc.org/abaw8969.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  12. ^ Lott, Jr., John R. (January 25, 2006). "Pulling Rank". New York Times. http://johnrlott.tripod.com/op-eds/NYTimesABARankings012506.html. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  13. ^ , Choi, Stephen; Gulati, Mitu (2003). "Who Would Win a Tournament of Judges (Draft)". Boalt Working Papers in Public Law (University of California) (19): 96. http://repositories.cdlib.org/boaltwp/19/. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 

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