Wednesday, August 03, 2005
The Federalist Society: Just What the Hell is it?
Ever since President Bush unleashed his mighty Karl Rove Weapon of Mass Distraction, Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr., we've heard a lot of talk about The Federalist Society. Roberts, like many prominent jurists, legal professionals, academics and politicians, is a member (although he disputes this despite the fact that his name appears in the organization's 1997-1998 leadership directory). Other notable members include former solicitor general Theodore Olson, Kenneth Starr, C. Boyden Gray, Robert Bork and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who said "I am on the board of advisers of the Federalist Society, and I am darn proud of it", adding that the group is a bunch of lawyers "who are just sick and tired of the leftward leanings of our government." Furthermore, almost half of Bush's judicial appointees are members. This is like a Who's Who of conservative all-stars. So just what does this group do? What does it stand for? What kind of power does it yield? How influential is in today's political scene? It was founded 23 years ago by disgruntled law students who felt that academia was decidedly biased towards the left. It's mission is to foster debate of and promote conservative views. According to its own web site, it is a "group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are 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....We have fostered a greater appreciation for the role of separation of powers; federalism; limited, constitutional government; and the rule of law in protecting individual freedom and traditional values....Finally, the Federalist Society provides opportunities for effective participation in the public policy process. The Society's ongoing programs encourage our members to involve themselves more actively in local, state-wide, and national affairs and to contribute more productively to their communities." It has about 35,000 members including 5,000 student members and 20,000 lawyers. On the surface it seems like any other partisan outfit, so why should we care? Because what's alarming is what we don't know about this group. Like Skull and Bones, this is a secret society. It does not publish its membership roster; it takes no official positions; and many who do belong either deny or lie about their membership, or feign ignorance about the group's mission/purpose. Some even claim to belong without having any idea why: "I am a member of the Federalist Society, and I do not know, quite frankly, what it stands for," Viet D. Dinh incredulously said during his confirmation hearing for a top job at the Justice Department. How much more vague can one be about a group that has had a pivotal role in several infamous political events such as the Clinton impeachment; the Florida Bush v. Gore recount; and the Swift Boat smear campaign on John Kerry? What many Democrats fear is the collective power the Society has. At issue, and of gravest concern, is the Society's influence in the war being fought by the GOP, evangelicals and other partisan hard-liners over the federal judiciary and the Constitution itself. Among the Society's power elite, just what does a wink and a handshake obtain? No one really knows. But one thing for sure is that the group is extremely influential, does wield significant power, and most likely is the engine driving a lot of radical positions being taken today on a range of sensitive issues including abortion, civil rights, privacy, separation of powers, federalism and judicial appointments. Oh, and by the way, Sen. Hatch just happens to be on the judiciary Committee which will soon commence confirmation hearings of Roberts. Andy