In 1982, conservative legal scholars such as Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork held the Federalist Society’s first National Student Symposium, launching an organization meant to advance the “rule of law.” This week, the organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a three-day convention, featuring speakers such as Clarence Thomas and John Yoo, along with Scalia, Olson, and Bork.
The Federalist Society has experienced a golden era under President Bush, who will, not surprisingly, be giving the keynote address at the organization’s black tie gala on Thursday. It has served as a gateway for judges and legal aides who strive to work inside the administration, in effect promoting individuals who have dedicated themselves to enforcing a right-wing ideology rather than the law. A look at the oversized influence Bush has afforded the Federalist Society:
– Filling top-level appointments. When he took office, Bush immediately filled many of his administration’s top appointments with current and former Federalist Society members, including: Gale Norton (Interior Secretary), John Ashcroft (Attorney General), Spencer Abraham (Energy Secretary), Ted Olson (Solicitor General), and Michael Chertoff (Homeland Security Secretary).
– Filling career Justice Department slots. Under Bradley Schlozman, approximately “half of the 14 career lawyers hired” for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division were members of the Federalist Society, “up from none among the eight career hires in the previous two years.”
– Filling judicial vacancies. Administration officials note that in the early days of the Bush presidency, “about a quarter of their judicial nominees were recommended by the Washington headquarters of the society.” In 2005, The New York Times reported that “15 of the 41 appeals court judges confirmed under Mr. Bush have identified themselves as members of the group.”
– Tracking U.S. attorneys’ Federalist Society membership. Political appointees in the Justice Department, such as former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling, assessed U.S. attorneys based not only on prosecution experience and political experience, but also whether they were members of the Federalist Society.
In 2005, the White House seemed to recognize the dangers in associating too closely with the conservative society. It aggressively resisted media efforts to (accurately) characterize then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts as a member of the group, going so far as to call and pressure reporters to report otherwise.
Apparently, that’s all water under the bridge. Not only is Bush speaking at the anniversary celebration, but so is Roberts.
UPDATE: Rudy Giuliani is the only presidential candidate who will be speaking at the convention. His Justice Advisory Committee includes Federalist Society members Olson and failed court of appeals nominee Miguel Estrada, as well as society co-founder Steven Calabresi.
UPDATE II: Although Mitt Romney won’t be speaking, his lawyers committee will be holding a breakfast at a nearby lobbying organization on Friday. View invitation HERE.
UPDATE III: In 1970, Bush was rejected by the University of Texas law school. As a backup, he attended Harvard Business School.