A Good Article about the Federalist Society

Gone
are the days when the liberal press covered the Federalist Society as if it
were a mysterious and sinister cult. Now (April 17) the Chronicle of Higher Education
features a largely favorable feature
article
hailing the Federalist Society’s history as “a story of how
disaffection, bold ideas, commitment to principle, and enlightened
institution-building have created a significant conservative shift in the legal,
policy, and political landscape of America over the past 30 years.”

Only a few
years ago, ominous coverage of the society was not unusual. In August 2005, The
New York Times ran a long Page
One report
on the society under the scary headline, “Debating the Subtle
Sway of the Federalist Society. The story began with an apparently puzzled
George W. Bush appointee saying, “I am a member of the Federalist Society,
and I do not know, quite frankly, what it stands for.” This was quickly
followed by a description of the society’s influence as “the source of
ever-swelling myth, mystery, insinuation, denial and debate,”with a liberal
blogger calling the  society “the conservative cabal that is
attacking America from within.”

Much more
upbeat, the Chronicle piece frankly expresses some admiration: “Academics
associated with the Federalist Society have educated a new generation of
conservative law students, played a role in the rise of openly conservative law
schools like Pepperdine’s and George Mason’s, and succeeded in gaining respect
and traction for conservative legal ideas.”

Roger
Pilon of Cato hails
the Chronicle article as “surprisingly
dispassionate,”
but adds that “it takes little imagination to see where they stand,” since the
article accuses the Federal Society of having an overall reactionary impact and
a social Darwinist agenda. The Chronicle authors cite unnamed critics who
complain that  “By glorifying private property, demonizing government
intervention (particularly at the federal level), insisting that originalism is
the only legitimate method of constitutional interpretation, embracing American
exceptionalism as a reason to remain apart from global governance, and pushing
related policies, these critics say, the society advocates a form of social Darwinism
that has been discredited by mainstream American legal thought since the
1930s.”

Still, “surprisingly dispassionate”
is a marked journalistic advance.

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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