The Federalist Society: From Obscurity to Power

Plotting an Extreme Course

The extreme nature of the positions that have been advocated by the Federalist Society and its leaders and detailed in this paper puts the Federalist Society far from the mainstream of beliefs shared by most Americans and enshrined in decades of constitutional jurisprudence and national policy. 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 our federal government of the power to enforce these rights and protections. While individual members of the Society may hold different views, the driving force of the Society-its leadership-is united behind this extreme ideology. Even the words that define the purpose of government and the courts for ordinary people, fundamental values such as "fairness" and "tolerance," have been called into dispute. Richard Posner, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge with close ties to the Federalist Society, has derided these words as "terms which have no content."138

Instead of lobbying or advocating in a very public and traditional manner, the Society is now working from powerful positions within the White House, the Justice Department and throughout the Bush administration. The Society's ambitions are not only to drive the nation's legal policies far to the right, but to lock in these changes for decades to come by controlling appointments to the federal court system. C. Boyden Gray, a Society member who served as White House counsel under Bush's father, has encouraged the younger Bush to use nominations for lifetime appointments to the federal courts to help create a legacy for his administration. "A president can put his or her stamp on the judiciary for a lot longer than he or she can the executive branch," said Gray.139 Indeed, he can-and if the Federalist Society has its way, President Bush will.

It's true that Federalist Society members, like all other Americans, have the constitutionally protected right to hold and express their own views and to join together with like-minded people in pursuit of shared goals. But it's also true that ideas have consequences. And the consequences of the ideas that leaders of the Federalist Society are promoting for the courts and the nation would be disastrous for Americans' fundamental rights.

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