|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.|
|Eugene B. Meyer|
(FYE September 2012)
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 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."
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. 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.
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.
The Society looks to Federalist Paper Number 78 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.
The Society's name is said to have been based on the 18th-century Federalist Party; 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.
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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. 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". Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.
Notable members of the Society have included:
- United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (who served as the original faculty advisor to the organization)
- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr.
- Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito
- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
- United States Circuit Court Judge Priscilla Owen
- United States Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Griffith
- United States Court of Appeals Judge Edith Clement
- Former United States Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler, a co-founder of the Federalist Society
- Former United States Court of Appeals Judge Robert Bork
- Former United States Attorney General Edwin Meese
- Former United States Solicitor General Theodore Olson
- President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate Orrin Hatch
- President of Baylor University and former independent counsel Kenneth Starr
- Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham
- Congressman Dan Lungren
- Former Texas State Representative and Dallas lawyer Bill Keffer
The Society also has many prominent libertarians who are members and frequent speakers at Society events, such as:
- Professor Richard Epstein of the New York University School of Law
- Professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown University Law Center
- Bradley A. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School who formerly served as Chairman of the Federal Election Commission
- Roger Pilon, Director of Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute
Other members include:
- Former United States Ambassador to the European Union C. Boyden Gray
- Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer
- Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff
- University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who received a Bator Award from the Society for "excellence in legal scholarship and teaching"
- Former United States Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton
- Justice Scalia's son Eugene Scalia
- Former general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget and of the Department of Homeland Security Philip Perry
While not necessarily members, several figures in the public eye have written for Federalist Society publications:
- Shawn Mitchell, a Republican member of the Colorado state senate
- Hans A. von Spakovsky, a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission
- Shannen W. Coffin, general counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney
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." 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. Membership in the Society is not a necessary condition for being listed in the leadership directory.
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- "William R. "Bill" Keffer". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
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- "Biography". UC Berkeley School of Law. 2006. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
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- Lane, Charles (July 25, 2005). "Roberts Listed in Federalist Society '97-98 Directory". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
- Avery, Michael; McLaughlin, Danielle (2013). The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-0826518774.
- Fiss, Owen. What is the Federalist Society?. 15 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 5 (1992)
- Teles, Steven M. (2008). The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12208-3.
- The Federalist Society
- List of chapters from the official website
- Organizational Profile – National Center for Charitable Statistics (Urban Institute)
- Federalist Society at DMOZ
- New York Times, August 1, 2005, "Debating the Subtle Sway of the Federalist Society"
- Federalist Society response to August 1, 2005, New York Times article
- Washington Post, July 29, 2005, "What the Federalist Society Stands For"