In Defense of the Federalist Society
Our members hold different views and hold debates on many subjects.
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.
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.