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Federalist Society

From Academic Kids

The Federalist Society began at Yale Law School in 1982 as a student organization that challenged what it saw as the orthodox liberal ideology found in most law schools. Its members argued that, while some members of the academic community dissented from orthodox views that advocated a centralized and uniform society, by and large those views were taught simultaneously with the law and were presented in academic settings as if they were law.

In its Statement of Principles, the Society states that it is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of powers is central to the United States' constitutional form of government, and that the role of the judicial branch is to say what the law is, not what the law should be.

Thus, the Society’s name is a reference to the concepts of Federalism (again, the concept that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be). This concept is clearly stated in the Federalist Papers, Article Number 78: “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.”

Therefore, the Society’s name is also a reference to the Federalist Papers, a series of articles intended to explain the new Constitution to the residents of New York state and persuade them to ratify it. A compilation of the Papers, called The Federalist, was published in 1788. The articles were written under the pseudonym "Publius" by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.

Due to the strong influence of James Madison on the Society’s philosophy, the Federalist Society considers Madison to be their 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.

The Society currently has chapters at 145 law schools in the United States, including all of the top-20-ranked law schools, as well as a parent organization for conservatives and libertarians who are interested in the current state of the legal order, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.

The Society seeks to promote the ideology set forth in its Statement of Principles through its activities. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a network of intellectuals that extends to all levels of the legal community. The Student Division has more than 5,000 law students as members and, through the national office's network of legal experts, the Society provides speakers for differing viewpoints at law school events. The activities of the Student Division are complemented by the activities of the Lawyers Division, which comprises more than 20,000 legal professionals, and the Faculty Division, which includes many of the rising stars in the academic legal community.

The Society has many prominent conservative members, including United States Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, former United States Circuit Court Judge Robert Bork, former United States Attorney General Edwin Meese, and former California Attorney General Dan Lungren. The Society also has many prominent libertarians who are members and frequent speakers at Society events, such as Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School; Professor Randy Barnett of Boston University School of Law, and Roger Pilon, Director of Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute.

Some people who don't ascribe to the Statement of Principles on which the Federalist Society is based nevertheless respect the Society for aspiring to be a force for serious, intellectual discussion and debate. For example, ACLU president Nadine Strossen, who is a frequent participant in Federalist Society conferences, has said that the Federalist Society has made a "marvelous contribution" to free speech, free debate, and public understanding, awareness, and appreciation of the Constitution. Dean Paul Brest of Stanford Law School — decidedly not a conservative — has credited the Federalist Society for bringing a "commitment to real, honest, vigorous, and open discussion," and for creating "a wonderful environment for discussing social, political, legal, and constitutional issues."

Members hope the Federalist Society is seen as a non-partisan organization that seeks to foster spirited debate of constitutional issues and public policy questions. Some events the Society sponsors attract noteworthy participants and attendees who do not share the views of the Society's conservative and libertarian members. Moreover, on many issues they see as important, such as drug legalization, there is a clear split in opinion between conservative and libertarian Society members.

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