John Ashcroft's First Six Months at the Justice Department: The Right Wing Dream Team Takes Over

The Federalist Society and Its Impact

The predominance of Federalist Society members and activists in the Justice Department, the White House, and throughout the Bush administration is relevant because this increasingly influential organization is providing much of the legal and intellectual firepower for the far right's efforts to transform American law and society through the courts.

There is nothing illegal or unethical about an administration being so heavily staffed and influenced by individuals who are affiliated with a single organization. However, the American people deserve to be fully informed about any organization that has assumed such a central role in shaping policy and determining appointees for the administration.

Despite its protestations that it is little more than a debating society, media from across the political spectrum agree that the organization carries tremendous clout. The Washington Times' Insight magazine identified the group as the "single most influential organization in the conservative legal world." An article in Washington Monthly identified the Society as "quite simply the best-organized, best-funded, and most effective legal network operating in this country." Grover Norquist, among the nation's most influential right-wing political strategists, confirmed the group's influence when he said, "If Hillary Clinton had wanted to put some meat on her charge of a 'vast right-wing conspiracy,' she should have had a list of Federalist Society members and she could have spun a more convincing story."

Through a network of right-wing lawyers, government officials, scholars and judges, the Society seeks to fundamentally remake the American legal system. Earlier this year, the organization sponsored a conference called "Rolling Back the New Deal." The leading voices of the Society share an ideology that is hostile to civil rights, reproductive rights, religious liberties, environmental protection, privacy rights, and health and safety standards, and would strip the federal government of the power to enforce these rights and protections. And they are poised to succeed.

When President George W. Bush took office, many pundits predicted that his narrow margin of victory, his loss of the popular vote, and his moderate-sounding campaign would lead him to govern from the political center. Yet Bush began almost immediately to confound this prediction with a series of actions - especially in the areas of family planning, the environment, and nominations - that seemed to have been taken directly from the right wing's playbook. Right-wing groups lauded President Bush's efforts to assemble a team that one ultra-conservative leader described as "more Reaganite than the Reagan administration."

Early predictions of moderation proved wrong largely because observers failed to take into account a very important factor: President Bush's reliance for policy and staffing decisions on members of right-wing organizations, notably the Federalist Society. When President Bush broke his campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, that decision was based on a controversial report requested by one of the Society's founding members. When right-wing leaders attacked the potential nomination of conservative Montana Governor Marc Racicot to be attorney general, it was a leading Federalist Society activist who wrote the memorandum that proved critical in torpedoing Racicot's hopes. In the end, the post went instead to Ashcroft, another Society member.

For a more in-depth examination of the Federalist Society, see People For the American Way Foundation's report, "The Federalist Society: from Obscurity to Power,". The Institute for judiciary Studies, 212-423-9237, has also published an analysis of the Federalist Society.

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