Federalist Society

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Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies
A black cameo
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]
  • 1776 I Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20066
Eugene B. Meyer[1]
Executive Vice President
Leonard Leo[4]
Revenue: $13,721,279
Expenses: $13,356,819
(FYE September 2013)[5]
Website 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 in accordance with a textualist or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the nation's most influential legal organizations.[6] It has played a significant role in moving the national debate to the right on the Second Amendment, campaign finance regulation, state sovereignty, and the Commerce Clause. It plays a central role in networking and mentoring young conservative lawyers.[7]

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 60,000 practicing attorneys (organized as "lawyers chapters" and "practice groups" within the Society's Lawyers Division) in eighty cities.[2] 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.[2][8]


The society was started by a group of people including Edwin Meese, 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.[9]

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.[10]

The Society's name is said to have been based on the 18th-century Federalist Party;[11] 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.


The Federalist Society holds a national lawyers convention each year in Washington, D.C. It is one of the highest profile conservative legal events of the year.[12][13] Speakers have included former ACLU head Nadine Strossen, business executive Carly Fiorina, former BB&T chairman John Allison, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and U.S. Senator Mike Lee.[14]

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.[15][16][17] 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".[18] Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.[19]

In The Federalist Society by Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin, the authors write that every federal judge appointed by both President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush was either a member or approved by members of the Federalist Society.[8] Avery and McLaughlin write that the Federalist Society is primarily a “group of intellectuals.”[20]

Notable members

Notable members of the Society have included:

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."[31] 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.[32] Membership in the Society is not a necessary condition for being listed in the leadership directory.[32]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Our Purpose". Federalist Society. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Background". Federalist Society. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  3. Schwartz, Peter (March 9, 2015). "Wolf at the Door: Antonin Scalia and the Legal Conservative Movement". Huffington Post. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  4. Barnes, Robert (November 21, 2008). "Conservative Federalist Society Can Expect Its Status to Shrink". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  5. "Charity Rating". Charity Navigator.  Also see "Quickview data" (PDF). GuideStar. 
  6. Fletcher, Michael (July 29, 2005). "What the Federalist Society Stands For". Washington Post. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Hollis-Brusky, Amanda (2015). Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution. Oxford University Press. p. 213. ISBN 9780199385539. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Rosen, Jeffrey (May 10, 2013). "Packing the Courts". Sunday Book Review. New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  9. Oliphant, James (2007-09-06). "Giuliani hitches star to conservative legal group". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  10. 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. 
  11. Landay, Jerry (March 2000). "The Federalist Society". Washington Monthly. 
  12. Stein, Sam (November 19, 2014). "Legal Panel At Federalist Society Begrudgingly Accepts Obama's Immigration Powers". Federalist Society. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  13. Mencimer, Stephanie (November 13, 2014). "Justice Scalia Goes to Conservative Legal Event, Gives Boring Speech". Mother Jones. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  14. Volokh, Eugene (October 30, 2014). "Federalist Society 2014 National Lawyers Convention". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  15. Batkins, Sam (2004-08-12). "ABA Retains Little Objectivity in Nomination Process". Center for Individual Freedom. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  16. Lindgren, James (2001-08-06). "Yes, the ABA Rankings Are Biased". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2006-08-21. 
  17. "ABA Ratings of Judicial Nominees". ABA Watch. Federalist Society. July 1996. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  18. Lott, Jr., John R. (January 25, 2006). "Pulling Rank". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  19. 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. 
  20. Fontana, David (June 11, 2013). "A Small Right-Wing Conspiracy: The Federalist Society". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 DeParle, Jason (2005-08-01). "Debating the Subtle Sway of the Federalist Society". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  22. Sarat, Austin (2013). Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Volume 61. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 139. ISBN 9781781906200. 
  23. "Who Is Edith Brown Clement?". ABC News. July 19, 2005. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 Carter, Terry (September 2001). "The In Crowd". ABA Journal. 87: 52. 
  25. Landay, Jerry (March 2000). "The Federalist Society". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  26. "William R. "Bill" Keffer" (PDF). lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  27. Hollis-Brusky, Amanda (March 5, 2015). "The Federalist Society to Fox News to the Supreme Court: The real story behind the conservative war on Obamacare". Salon. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  28. Volokh, Eugene (2001-06-03). "Our Flaw? We’re Just Not Liberals". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  29. Riehl, Jonathan (2007). The Federalist Society and Movement Conservatism: How a Fractious Coalition on the Right is Changing Constitutional Law and the Way We Talk and Think about it. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 141. ISBN 9780549128793. 
  30. 30.0 30.1 Levine, Art (March 2007). "Dick Cheney’s Dangerous Son-in-Law". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  31. Lane, Charles (July 21, 2005). "Federalist Affiliation Misstated". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 Lane, Charles (July 25, 2005). "Roberts Listed in Federalist Society '97–98 Directory". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 

Further reading

External links

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