The Federalist Society (or more fully, The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies) began at Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School in 1982 as a student organization to challenge the domination of law schools and the legal profession by what it describes as "a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society." It now has chapters at all 196 ABA accredited law schools. It reports that it has a membership of over 30,000 practicing attorneys.
The Federalist Society states that it is founded on the following principles:
- The state exists to preserve freedom,
- The separation of governmental powers is central to the U.S. Constitution,
- It is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.
- The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.
|“||"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."||”|
Due to the strong influence of James Madison on the Society’s philosophy, the Federalist Society considers Madison to be its patriarch—hence the use of Madison’s silhouette in the Society’s official logo. Madison is generally credited as the father of the Constitution and became the fourth President of the United States.
Priorities for the Legal System
The Federalist Society believes that priorities within the legal system must be re-ordered so as to place a premium on:
- Individual liberty
- Traditional values
- The rule of law.
The primary means the Federalist Society uses to achieve its objectives is through a series of programs whereby it has built a conservative and libertarian intellectual network extending through all levels of the legal community.
The Federalist Society holds a National Lawyers Convention in Washington, DC in November of each year.
The Federalist Society seeks to debate constitutional issues and public policy questions, a commitment which extends to inviting speakers who do not agree with the society's principles; past invitees include Justice Stephen Breyer and law professor Alan Dershowitz, as trenchant opponents of the Federalist Society's goals as could be imagined. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explained this openness to dissenting voices by saying that "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."
The Society receives substantial funding from many prominent free-market groups. Among their roster of funders, are: Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, Carthage Foundation, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Philip M. McKenna, Earhart Foundation, Olin Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
- Federalist Society website
- 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"
- List of chapters from the official website
- 26th Annual Student Symposium Homepage, hosted by Northwestern University School of Law
- 25th Annual Student Symposium Homepage, hosted by Columbia Law School