August 26, 2005

Where did all the Fedralists go?

by Sean Sirrine

No, I'm not dead, in fact, I just finished my orientation for law school and I miraculously still want to be a lawyer! Well actually, it wasn't bad at all. I posted my first brief over at Objective Justice and will be posting all the briefs I write over there for as long as humanly possible. (I'm told it won't last more than three weeks.)

If any of you reading this are from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, give me the skinny on the professors and I sure could use some good outlines. I'm already a member of the vilified Federalist Society, and I wanted to take a moment to speak about that.

As a registered libertarian for over 11 years I am extremely disappointed that the Federalist Society has been so fully taken over by the "conservatives". (It has been so fully taken over in fact, that they bill themselves as the conservative opposition to the liberal law schools.) The Federalists act as though they don't have an partisan ideological position, but I can tell you honestly that many of them espouse a belief in the Republican Party.

Now, this may not be bad if you're a Republican, but it sure is crappy for those of us that truly believe in Federalism, as we have to wade through the decidedly Republican platform of many of our peers. It especially irritates me because the current administration is in no way a proponent of Federalism. I'm not sure how Republicans in the Federalist Society can be Federalists and believe the federal government should be allowed to make paternal decisions for the states. At least Justices Scalia and Thomas (with whom I disagree quite frequently), know where to stand on those issues.

As we all know it is clearly mistaken to assume that politics have no bearing on the law. Probably more has been written about this topic of the legal process than any other in the U.S. So yes, I do understand that politics do play an important role, but I'm here at law school because I'm looking for an objective rather than subjective forum to make changes in our society. I realize that Federalism is a political topic, but can't we talk about the legal aspects more than the political? I mean, come on! If I wanted to talk politics rather than law, I'd be getting my PhD rather than a JD.

It really ticks me off that Republicans have started using a forum that supports Federalism to "make a stand against the liberal law school tradition". I frankly don't give a damn about the politics of my law professors, I'm here to learn the law, not how I should vote in the next election. I certainly don't need to be "protected" from the big bad boogey man of liberalism. In fact, that sounds like an argument the Democrats would make.

Now we have the Federalist faced off against the ACS, (which purports to support the Constitution, but really supports the Democratic Party), and there is a turf war brewing. Why? Are the Democrats against Federalism? Are the Republicans against the Constitution? What the hell is going on here?

All of this ridiculous posturing has devalued what could be an amazingly rich resource for law students. I don't care if you're pro or anti federalism -- though I will gladly argue with you though -- but I just want to be able to discuss the topic without having to hear all the ridiculous posturing of the Republicans. (Trust me; I know the Libertarians make fools of themselves quite often as well.)

That is my rant for the day. I have decided to devote myself to repairing the image of the Federalist Society. We're not all "conservatives"; some of us actually make decisions based on the issues involved rather than deciding based on the party platform. For you Republicans out there that think this post is about you, it is. I'm totally fine with discussion of your political beliefs (I agree with about half of what you say), but leave your Republican hat at home when you're representing the Federalist Society. This issue is too important to get muddled up with a political party.

August 26, 2005 07:40 PM | TrackBack

Sean, welcome to law school, and to the Federalists. I say that as a conservative Federalist, and one who definitely thinks that Federalist society principles are at odds with the liberal professoriate. Perhaps when you get past the warm glow of orientation you will come to see that it was not by accident that the odd bedfellows that the conservatives and libertarians make up came together: it was, perhaps, a common enemy! When you hear a real conservative like Robbie George of Princeton speak and then a real libertarian like Richard Epstein speak you will in both cases hear things rather different from a certain kind of predominant approach in law schools, what we tend to call the "liberal" approach.

Secondly, bear in mind that the overlapping views that bring this diverse group together are the federalist views, and that one can be a conservative in addition to being a federalist--it is not as if they collapse into each other. So, yes, there are partisan Republicans in the federalist society--but their membership in both outfits does not mean that they cannot distinguish their participation. Gosh, at my parish there are partisan Democrats who make sandwiches for the poor, right alongside partisan Republicans who do the same: neither claims that the food line requires a single party staff, though both care about the poor for views related to what motivates their politcs. I for one got along great with and enjoyed the contributions of the less conservative members of the Federalist Society student convention at the Harvard Law School this year.

Indeed, I myself made some rather strong liberal remarks against the Administration's torture memos, which I have expanded upon at our CLS Federalist blog expost as well. So give law school a chance--the liberals, the conservatives, the ACS and the Federalists. Actually, I just thought they were clear areas where a respect for the rule of law should have cut against certain political affinities.

Do bear in mind also that ours is a two party political system, and one whose federal judges are appointed by those parties. So it may not be as easy as you think, at the end of the day, to take jurisprudence seriously and to do so in a vacuum separate from partisan politics.

Posted by: T. More at August 27, 2005 12:43 AM

I urge you to read "Un-Making Law, The Conservative Campaign To Roll Back The Common Law" by Jay M. Feinman, Beacon Press 2004, for which there is an update website at

Feinman well demonstrates the efforts of conservatives, aided in recent years by the Federalist Society, to drastically change the law. His book will give you a sense of the history of the law, especially as it developed in the 20th Century with improvements that benefitted the lives of many. The Federalist Society is elitist. Being a member serves well on a resume and leads to the bigger bucks permitting payback of student loans. So before you sell your soul in law school, please read Feinman's book.

By the way, the Federalist Society differs substantially from the Federalist Party of Washington, Adams and Hamilton, resembling more the anti-Federalist views of Thomas Jefferson's republicans. But does the Federalist Society openly espouse Jefferson?

As for the libertarian side, I have had difficulty distinguishing a libertarian from a libertine except that the latter have more fun.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at August 27, 2005 07:28 AM


Yes, you should see my elite cardboard membership card, cut with a dull papercutter and sent along after I paid my elite 5 dollar membership fee.

I get awfully annoyed from time to time with what we tend to call "liberal" jurisprudence, which I take to be overly results oriented. But I do not doubt the sincerity or the intelligence of those who disagree with me. I do not call their motives into question or imagine that they, any more than the rest of us, have sold their souls.

Why is it that people cannot stick to arguments as to why this or that position is wrong rather than trying to turn every group that disagrees with them into an international conspiracy?

If you attend any federalist society event you will see, almost uniformly, reasoned and informed discussion representing a variety of viewpoints from within and without. Many folks including faculty at various schools will confirm that the Federalist society tends to put on the most and the best events and that all views are welcome and exchanged. Of course, those who identify with the group tend to share a number of views, but there is little uniformity and that's a good thing.

But maybe once I sold my soul for that 5 dollar card--hey, wait, they charged me!--I lost all judgment in such matters.


Posted by: T. More at August 27, 2005 01:37 PM

Are Federalist Society meetings open to the public? If so, can you let me know when and where meetings will held in the Boston area in September or October? If so, I can provide identity as a card carrying ACLU member. I'd be glad to listen to what FS has to say.

By the way, are FS members in the employ of any of Ralph Nader's public interest legal groups or work as public defenders? What portion of FS members work for white shoe law firms and/or as corporate counsel? What with the huge tuitions at law schools, where, pray tell, can graduates make the most money? And are those places where FS membership might be a plus? Perhaps FS recruiting and attraction reminds law students of legal economics 101.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at August 28, 2005 02:52 PM


Um, yes. You can look here, this year's student symposium will be at the Columbia Law School--it will include card carrying members of the ACLU as panelists. You'll also note the link to the Federalist Society's--gulp!--pro bono center.

Nadine Strossen was a featured speaker at the Harvard Symposium this year, on a lengthy panel on the Patriot Act.

As to the networking thing, I think it's hilarious that people have this impression. Most elite law school students, irrespective of their affiliations, end up at big law firms for all sorts of reasons, some more reasonable than others. But of course there are federalists who work in public interest--I was a public interest fellow from my school last year. Further, the real question federalists face applying for jobs in Manhattan (big law Mecca), is whether to advertise membership at all. This is not a conservative town.

So I frankly don't know where you get your info about the FS; it was of no help (and I'm a pretty active participant) in finding me a job, though certainly the leaders in our school offer younger members help--but I'm sure that's true of every organization, from L.Rev. to the Movie Club.

Law firms tend not to care about people's political leanings--they care about whether you can think and whether you will work many, many hours a week and a year. To the extend they do care, there are many, many more liberal law firms and lawyers (as there are many, many more liberal law professors) than there are conservatives, so all the secret handshakes in the world won't overcome those facts. Of course, this is not a secret society and there is no secret handshake, really!

So you might want to calm down a bit, and stop casting aspersions as if you know something others don't. If you don't know that the Federalist Society's meetings are always open and welcome all points of view, you really don't know the first thing about it, I'm afraid. But that hasn't stopped you from making it sound like something out of a Dan Brown novel.

Best Regards,


Posted by: T. More at August 28, 2005 05:14 PM

You have proved once again that in your case More is less. I have the benefit of over 50 years experience in the practice of law during which time I have had exposure to and have observed the legal scene primarily in the Boston area. Perhaps if FS membership is not helpful with your resume, then other factors should be considered that may be in opposition. Meantime, I shall check the FS website to locate a public meeting that I can attend.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at August 29, 2005 01:54 PM

I have tried to be polite with you. You have insulted me (however cheekily it may be intended, to be charitable) in reply, without offering a scintilla of proof (of which there is none to be had) that your assertions about the Federalists are correct. For what it is worth, I worked at a top 5 Vault firm this summer, one that is absolutely dominated by liberal partners and junior associates, as one would expect in Manhattan. There are no problems with my resume; my point, if you will reread it, is that even among FS members we question the wisdom (and non-members, who do not share your paranoia or frankly your ignorance about such matters, counsel against it) of including membership on our resumes, at least insofar as we wish to work in Manhattan.

Your campaign of unsubstantiated lies and innuendo about the Society and its members is now laid bare, and I don't think there is much further for us to exchange about except your attempt to be clever with my pseudonym.

You will still be welcome, of course at any Federalist Society events you might choose to attend, as we are a people of hope!



Posted by: T. More at August 29, 2005 07:58 PM

I didn't think twice about putting my Fed Soc membership on my resume, and am cheerfully sure that every law firm that didn't call me back did so not because of that line on my list of activities, but because of my mediocre transcript. Not including Fed Soc would have been paranoia in the other direction (i.e. all the liberals are out to get the federalists). No one said anything negative about it -- maybe they figured Journal of Gender & Law and Fed Soc cancelled each other out politically -- and a couple of people commented positively. In a two-person interview, one guy glanced at my resume and handed it to the other person, saying "She's one of yours," because the other interviewer was a Federalist. Not to be under false pretenses, I told them about the whole liberal token thing.

When I was explaining Fed Soc to a transfer from the London School of Economics, I pointed out that its main career benefit comes at clerkship time. While Manhattan firms are predominately liberal, reflecting both NYC and the legal profession, judges are appointed by both parties and thus much more likely to split about 50/ 50. (State courts with elected judges can be even more conservative depending on the political trend there; see current Texas Supreme Court, cf TX SC of 1970s.) Also, Fed Soc's record of excellent events means lots of time for students to hobnob with the speakers, many of whom are judges or people with the ear of judges.

Posted by: PG at August 29, 2005 08:42 PM

Hello all!

Thanks T. More for your thoughtful and straightforward response to my post. The only thing I have to disagree with you on, (and I disagree entirely), is your assertion that we live in a two-party system. It is obvious that the two parties, (both are equally responsible for this), have done everything within their power to shut out any other parties that may want to participate. As far as I remember a two-party system is not in the Constitution, and if it were the Republicans would not exist today.

You seem to understand that it is possible to be a Federalist without being a conservative, whereas many of the Federalists I have met have spoken as if being a Republican automatically makes you a Federalist. I'm sure you're aware that this cannot be so. I support the ideals espoused by the Federalists, not the Republican Party.


Come on, can't we discuss this topic without getting polemic? That was the whole point of my post. i think you make some good points about the "packing" of courts in a conservative nature as being a desire of the Federalist organization. However, when you discuss it in such a nature that makes you seem like a conspiracy theorist your views lose much of their force.


Just in case I never told you before, I love that you joined the Federalists. I joined because I want to be somewhere where there can be full and robust debate, and there wouldn't be that type of debate without those like yourself. Also, I think you make an excellent point about the benefit of being a Federalist when it comes to working for a judge. I think you're right that it is an excellent way to meet judges, but I think it is just a way to get in the door.

If I were a judge, I would want both clerks that agreed with my view-point and those that disagreed. Many judges write opinions poorly that could have been excellent if they had someone at their shoulder that could clearly articulate the opposing viewpoint. I believe that both conservative and liberal judges are more likely to look at any candidate which they can place in either the conservative or liberal camp in order to balance their clerking knowledge base.

Unfortunately, this lumps me in with the conservatives, where I'm a true libertarian. Oh well, I still have Judges like Kozinski and Brown which I'll fight like crazy to clerk for.

Thanks for all the comments!

Posted by: Sean Sirrine at August 29, 2005 10:11 PM

PG--of course I agree with you about the paranoia factor of not putting FedSoc on the resume. There are people who think there is no reason to reflect one's beliefs (or put organizations which for most people signal those beliefs) on a resume, but that's a different matter from worrying that it will hurt you.

I also certainly agree that there are judges for whom membership in the FedSoc would be a positive, and more of those than, say, judges for whom ACS membership would be.

Nevertheless, there are LOTS of FedSoc members, so it's unlikely that mere membership in the organiation would at the end of the day go very far to securing you much. Our folks, as you know, work pretty hard to help people learn about judges and so forth, but I haven't seen much evidence that the organization formally or informally does concrete things to put its members in a better position to win clerkships.


We don't necessarily disagree about much, actually. We do live in a two party system that is neither mandatory nor particularly beneficial, and that is propped up by anti-democratic measures undertaken by both the Dems and the GOP--on that we agree.

But my only real point was that, to the extent one wants to work for judges, opine about judges, or speak about the appointment of judges, the context for that for the foreseeable future will be a context in which federal judges are either appointed by a Democratic or Republican President, and that fact does at the end of the day tend to color discussions of jurisprudence.

Posted by: T. More at August 30, 2005 02:17 PM

Very little to add to an interesting discussion. Sean, if you haven't seen this already, I recommend it -- 3-page article by Alex Kozinski titled "So You Want to Become a Federal Judge by 35?"

Link here:

Although he is the hero of many libertarians and a fiercely independent judge (Reinhardt says as much frequently), he explains in very readable (if general) terms some of the political reality behind being appointed to the federal bench. Basically he's a libertarian to the core, but the road to his job went through Washington.

Posted by: T-Money at September 3, 2005 05:51 PM
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