Op Ed

In Defense of the Federalist Society

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Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

Data Wonk columnist Bruce Thompson recently took to these pages to discuss the rising profile of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. In doing so, Mr. Thompson misstated certain aspects of the Society’s mission and goals, and the undersigned write to address those points.

The Federalist Society was founded on certain core principles. Among these are the idea that the purpose of the state is to preserve individual liberty, that the separation of governmental powers is central to the Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. In short, the Society is committed to the rule of law. The goal of the Society and its members is to promote awareness of these principles and to further them through their activities. It is this mission that animates the Society, not fidelity to any particular governmental policy or political party.

Indeed, the Society’s members subscribe to a wide variety of political views, many of them at odds with one another. The activities of the Society reflect this diversity of thought, and its events encourage debate and conversation on issues of public importance. Here in Milwaukee the local Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society has hosted public events on election law, feminism, religious liberty, judicial nominations, the administrative state, gerrymandering, class actions, and statutory interpretation—all within the last eighteen months. This past January, the chapter hosted a panel discussion featuring all three candidates running for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

These are not the activities of a mere “networking group” where, in the words of Mr. Thompson, “ambitious conservative lawyers could socialize with establishment conservatives, get sized up, and hopefully be judged a safe choice for judicial and other appointments.” There is little safety to be found in publicly debating and discussing matters of public importance, and the Federalist Society itself neither endorses candidates for office nor takes positions on specific issues.

That members of the Federalist Society are actively involved in public life is unsurprising given the goals and principles on which it was founded. But the Society is not an extension of its members’ political or judicial ambitions, and to imply otherwise does a disservice to the quality of our public discourse. Indeed, given the concerns Mr. Thompson and others have regarding the rule of law in Wisconsin and beyond, the existence of a group committed to the rule of law above all else would seem to be vital.

Rather than writing off the Federalist Society as an appendage of the conservative political movement, Mr. Thompson would do well to simply attend one of the Society’s events. Each and every one is widely advertised and open to the public. The intellectual rigor and quality of the conversation—not to mention the commitment to the core legal principles underlying our shared democratic republic—might just surprise him.

Nathan Imfeld, Robert Driscoll, Mathew Fernholz, and Anne-Louise Mittal are attorneys and civil litigators in the Milwaukee area. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

5 thoughts on “Op Ed: In Defense of the Federalist Society”

  1. PMD says:

    Public events on a wide array of topics is not evidence of an expansive diversity of thought in the organization (nor is Bruce Thompson the first person to criticize the Federalist Society). Recently they had a public event concerning federalism. All four guests are conservatives. That does’t exactly bolster their argument here.

  2. Good Grief says:

    “Indeed, the Society’s members subscribe to a wide variety of political views, many of them at odds with one another.” Examples conveniently omitted.

  3. fightingbobfan says:

    Been wanting for this to come up, because what I know about the original Federalists, the self-named group has nothing to do with them. The actual Federalists, for example, believed in a strong central government.

    Yet another case where the right wing sucks at truth in advertising, or truth for that matter.

    Maybe they should be called the Confederalist Society?

  4. Terry says:

    In a feferalist society if you want your basic human rights, much less basic civil rights just make sure you live in a state that honors them, unlike Wisconsin. Career Politician Scott Walker and republican’s so called “small limited government” is going to very soon try to force victims of rape and incest to have their disgusting rapist’s babies, even if the woman’s life is at risk, as well as continue to steal our voting rights via republican gerrymandering (aka cheating) as well as lock up peaceful, loving people for ganja all while they chug beer, meet with the Russians, take millions from gun nuts and out of state billionaires and hand over billions of our money to Chinese companies as the roads collapse and DOT debt grows into the billions.

    Dump Walker 2018
    Dump ALL republicans 2018

  5. andsoitgoes says:

    It only costs $50/year to join any you don’t have to be a lawyer or a professional. I think many more laypeople, students, retired folk, everybody should join. Let’s all try out the perspective of a technocrat and talk and debate about it. God, what fun!

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