The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is an American nonprofit organization focused on reforming the legal system and protecting the Constitution. Founded in 1982, the Federalist Society has a membership of over 40,000 law students, law professors, judges, and legal professionals.
The independent website Charity Navigator gives the Federalist Society a perfect 4-star rating, and ranks it among the Top 20 public policy institutions in America.
Mission and aims
The Federalist Society describes itself as:
“…committed to 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 seeks to promote awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.”
There are no ideological requirements for membership, but members generally believe in the importance of the separation of powers, and faithful interpretation of the original text of the Constitution. Intellectual diversity and disagreement is welcomed, and the chairman of the board has described the group as “a debate club.”
History and leadership
The Federalist Society’s first student chapters were founded in 1982, at the law schools of Yale University and the University of Chicago. Chapters at other prestigious law schools soon followed, and there are now student members at every accredited law school in the United States.
Activities and advocacy
In the interest of promoting thoughtful legal discourse, the Federalist Society hosts lectures, debates, conferences, and other activities across the nation. Student chapters host approximately 1,000 events annually, giving attendees a chance to hear from the top minds in the legal realm.
The group produces a variety of publications, including a quarterly newsletter called The Federalist Paper and Engage, a journal of the Society’s practice groups.
Another project, “ABA Watch,” serves to monitor the activities of the American Bar Association. In 2001 the White House changed the ABA’s role in prescreening judicial nominees, after the Federalist Society exposed a systematic liberal bias in the ABA’s evaluations.
The Federalist Society Pro Bono Law Center is a new project that matches lawyers with opportunities for pro bono work “in the cause of individual liberty, traditional values, limited government, and the rule of law.”
Among the Society’s expanding range of projects, Global Governance Watch raises awareness of global governance issues, including transparency at the United Nations and the influence of international organizations on domestic policymaking. Global Governance Watch is a joint project with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank.
In 2009, the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation awarded the Bradley Prize to the Federalist Society’s founding members and leaders. The honorees were founders Spencer Abraham, Steven G. Calabresi, David McIntosh, and Lee Liberman Otis, along with president Eugene B. Meyer and executive vice president Leonard Leo.
The Federalist Society has been the focus of some political controversy over the years. In 2005, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ past membership in the Society was attacked during his confirmation hearings. Partisan criticism of Chief Justice Roberts, and the Society, as overly conservative, was ultimately defused.
In fact, intellectual figures across the political spectrum have praised the Federalist Society. ACLU president Nadine Strossen, for example, said that the Society has made a “marvelous contribution” to “free speech, free debate, and most importantly public understanding of, awareness of, and appreciation of the Constitution.
Federalist Society alumni are among the most accomplished and well-recognized figures in the legal and political spheres. On the U.S. Supreme Court, members include Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.
Other well-known members include former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, University of Chicago Law School professor Richard Epstein, Congressman David McIntosh, and former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.