Cathy Young: Groupthink Hits the Federalist Society

In its response to my column on my relationship with the Federalist Society’s speakers bureau, the Federalist Society claims that it continues to host events on the same topic that got me dropped from their list—challenging hardline feminist doctrines on “rape culture” and rape legislation—and speakers who share the same “basic perspective” as mine.

The response offers three examples: an upcoming panel at its Lawyers’ Convention, a discussion at the Los Angeles Lawyers’ Chapter, and a multimedia feature on its website. What’s missing here? A single event at a student chapter. This makes me wonder whether, in fact, debate on this subject is now effectively out of bounds at law schools.

Meanwhile, a past Federalist Society chapter president, Ron Coleman, has posted a remarkable comment on my column, arguing that the national leadership’s decision was probably shaped by a climate in which being associated with a group that takes a politically incorrect stance could affect the academic and future professional career of law students. I would say that that is the definition of caving to campus orthodoxy.

Mr. Coleman also implies (if I’m reading him correctly) that I “called out” the Federalist Society leadership out of bitterness at the loss of revenues from speaking engagements. I can assure him that I would have spoken out just the same if this kind of blacklisting had happened to someone else. In fact, several friends advised me against “burning my bridges,” suggesting that after some passage of time the Federalist Society might reverse the ban. Whether or not that would have possible, I chose to speak out because I think the current “chilly climate” (to borrow a feminist term) for campus speech is a dangerous problem.

Finally, in response to those who have pointed out that the Federalist Society doesn’t owe me anything: yes, I said as much in my article. The speakers’ bureau updates its list of speakers before each academic year. Had they told me they were not going to have me on their next year’s list for any reason—even wanting to make room for new speakers—I would have had absolutely no cause to complain and would have remained grateful for past speaking opportunities. Instead, I was abruptly kicked off the list and ordered to cancel already existing speaking engagements on the grounds of making unspecified offensive statements. (I realized that student feedback is confidential, but surely at least the comments could have been quoted without names.) I am still grateful to all the student volunteers, faculty advisors, and faculty members who debated me or commented on my events.

My purpose in going public was not to settle scores; it was to call attention to a troubling situation in which groupthink on “the rape culture” seems to be affecting even right-of-center organizations.

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Cathy Young

Cathy Young, a columnist for Newsday, is a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics and Reason.

3 thoughts on “Cathy Young: Groupthink Hits the Federalist Society

  1. Hi; me again, Ronnie Remarkable. I agree with your views on the underlying topic — very strongly — as I’m sure 99% of Federalist Society members, from student volunteers up through the top leadership, do.

    I’m not going to repeat my remarkable argument here but will say, unsurprisingly, that I don’t believe you’ve characterized the issues I’ve raised entirely fairly. I appreciate, however, that you linked to it.

    With the admittedly scary cudgel of “groupthink” being waved at me, however, I’m stopping here, because frankly my entire thesis in this discussion is based on speculation. For all I know, you’re actually right; no one from the upper echelons has told me to go to that hollowed-out tree where they usually leave instructions to us rank and file, so I fear being left out even further out in the cold.

    I’d let you speak at my law school, but not having much of a head for business, I didn’t open one when the going was good. All the best.

  2. I guess you missed the part where I said they were free to cut from their list for any reason at all. You also seem to be missing the point that the reviews had to do specifically with this issue and that at least one of those negative reviews contained an out-and-out lie (about the “walkout”).

    Is it “entitlement” to think that, after a 14-year association, the decent thing to do would have been to at least tell me what the complaints were? That’s hardly a breach of confidentiality.

  3. I was a fan of yours before these articles, Cathy. But you seem to have a sense of entitlement about your association with Fed Soc that’s disturbing. And you use language so imprecisely that it’s no wonder they ended their association with you. “Blacklisting”? You can’t be serious. “Caving to rape culture orthodoxy”? Please. They “caved” to reviews from their students who didn’t want you as a speaker. And it looks like they took the high road by being diplomatic in their response. In turn you write this post whining about your critics. Shame on you. I’m done reading your writing or attending your talks.

    And shame on the Manhattan Institute for publishing this nonsense and trying to damage the reputation of a allied institution. That’s low.

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