Federalist Society

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Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies
Fedsoc logo.png
The Federalist Society logo, depicting the silhouette of James Madison's bust
Type Legal
Purpose 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]
  • 1015 18th Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20036
Eugene B. Meyer[3]
Revenue: $13,619,720
Expenses: $13,128,249
(FYE September 2012)[4]
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 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 is a membership organization that features a Student Division, a Lawyers Division, and a Faculty Division. The Society currently has chapters at over 200 United States law schools and claims a membership of over 10,000 law students. The Lawyers Division comprises over 30,000 practicing attorneys (organized as "lawyers chapters" and "practice groups" 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 was started by a group of people including Edwin Meese, then Professor Robert Bork, David M. McIntosh, Lee Liberman Otis, Spence Abraham, and Steven Calabresi. Its membership has since included Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.[5]

The Society looks to Federalist Paper Number 78[6] 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.[7]

The Society's name is said to have been based on the 18th-century Federalist Party;[8] 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.


Federalist Society members helped to encourage President George W. Bush’s decision to terminate the American Bar Association’s nearly half-century-old practice of 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 alleged that 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]

Notable members[edit]

Notable members of the Society have included:[14]

The Society also has many prominent libertarians who are members and frequent speakers at Society events, such as:

Other members include:[citation needed]

While not necessarily members, several figures in the public eye have written for Federalist Society publications:[22]

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts was reported to have been a member of the Society, but Roberts's membership status was never definitively established. Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said Roberts "has no recollection of ever being a member."[23] The Washington Post later located the Federalist Society Lawyers' Division Leadership Directory, 1997-1998, which listed Roberts as a member of the Washington chapter steering committee.[24] Membership in the Society is not a necessary condition for being listed in the leadership directory.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About Us, Our Background". The Federalist Society. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  2. ^ "Our Background". Federalist Society. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  3. ^ "Board of Directors". About Us. Federalist Society. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  4. ^ "Charity Rating". Charity Navigator.  Also see "Quickview data". GuideStar. 
  5. ^ Oliphant, James (2007-09-06). "Giuliani hitches star to conservative legal group". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  6. ^ "Conservative & Libertarian Pre-Law Reading List". Federalist Society. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  7. ^ Atkins, Paul S. (2008-01-18). "Speech by SEC Commissioner: Remarks at the Federalist Society Lawyers' Chapter of Dallas, Texas". SEC. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  8. ^ Landay, Jerry (March 2000). "The Federalist Society". Washington Monthly. 
  9. ^ Batkins, Sam (2004-08-12). "ABA Retains Little Objectivity in Nomination Process". Center for Individual Freedom. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  10. ^ Lindgren, James (2001-08-06). "Yes, the ABA Rankings Are Biased". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2006-08-21. 
  11. ^ "ABA Ratings of Judicial Nominees". ABA Watch. Federalist Society. July 1996. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  12. ^ Lott, Jr., John R. (January 25, 2006). "Pulling Rank". New York Times. 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. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  14. ^ "Right Wing Organizations". People For The American Way. May 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  15. ^ DeParle, Jason (2005-08-01). "Debating the Subtle Sway of the Federalist Society". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  16. ^ "William R. "Bill" Keffer". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Executive Privilege (continued)". Federalist Society. 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  18. ^ "Is the DC Gun Ban Unconstitutional? - Event Audio/Video". Federalist Society. 2008-01-04. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  19. ^ "Debates - Crawford v. Marion County". Federalist Society. 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  20. ^ Volokh, Eugene (2001-06-03). "Our Flaw? We’re Just Not Liberals". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  21. ^ "Biography". UC Berkeley School of Law. 2006. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  22. ^ "White Papers". The Federalist Society. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  23. ^ Lane, Charles (July 21, 2005). "Federalist Affiliation Misstated". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  24. ^ a b Lane, Charles (July 25, 2005). "Roberts Listed in Federalist Society '97-98 Directory". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°54′11″N 77°02′29″W / 38.9031°N 77.0414°W / 38.9031; -77.0414