- Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law.
- The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.
- This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. It also requires restoring the recognition of the importance of these norms among lawyers, judges, law students and professors. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community.
- Founded in 1982, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks to promote awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.
- In its mission and purpose, the Federalist Society is unique. By providing a forum for legal experts of opposing views to interact with members of the legal profession, the judiciary, law students, academics, and the architects of public policy, the Society has redefined the terms of legal debate. Our expansion in membership, chapters, and program activity has been matched by the rapid growth of the Society's reputation and the quality and influence of our events. We have fostered a greater appreciation for the role of separation of powers; federalism; limited, constitutional government; and the rule of law in protecting individual freedom and traditional values. Overall, the Society's efforts are improving our present and future leaders' understanding of the principles underlying American law.
- The Society is a membership organization that features a Student Division, a Lawyers Division, and a Faculty Division. The Student Division includes more than 10,000 law students at all of the 204 ABA-accredited law schools as well as 10 additional chapters based at non-accredited law schools, satellite campuses for ABA-accredited schools, and a few undergraduate institutions. The national office provides speakers and other assistance to the chapters in organizing their lectures, debates, and educational activities. In the 2017-2018 academic year, our student chapters hosted 1,123 events, with a total attendance of about 63,395 students.
- The Lawyers Division is comprised of over 65,000 legal professionals and others interested in current intellectual and practical developments in the law. It has active chapters in ninety cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Houston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Indianapolis. Activities include the annual National Lawyers Convention, a Speakers Bureau for organizing lectures and debates, and 15 Practice Groups.
- The Federalist Society established its Faculty Division in early 1999 with a conference that was attended by many of the rising stars in the legal academy. The objective of the Faculty Division is to provide events and other tools to help encourage constructive academic discourse. This encouragement will help foster the growth and development of rigorous traditional legal scholarship.
- Finally, the Federalist Society provides opportunities for effective participation in the public policy process. The Society’s ongoing programs encourage our members to involve themselves more actively in local, state-wide, and national affairs and to contribute more productively to their communities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the Federalist Society?
A. It is an organization of 60,000 lawyers, law students, scholars, and other individuals who believe and trust that individual citizens can make the best choices for themselves and society. It was founded in 1982 by a group of law students interested in making sure that the principles of limited government embodied in our Constitution receive a fair hearing.
Q. How does the Federalist Society carry out its mission?
A. The Society's main purpose is to sponsor fair, serious, and open debate about the need to enhance individual freedom and the role of the courts in saying what the law is rather than what they wish it to be. We believe debate is the best way to ensure that legal principles that have not been the subject of sufficient attention for the past several decades receive a fair hearing.
Q. Does the Federalist Society take positions on legal or policy issues or engage in other forms of political advocacy?
A. No. The Society is about ideas. We do not lobby for legislation, take policy positions, or sponsor or endorse nominees and candidates for public service. Beyond our statement of purpose the Federalist Society takes no public policy positions and does not participate in activism of any kind. We focus on fostering debate and discussion of important legal topics. We do not seek to speak for our members, and neither do our speakers. This has been true since our founding in 1982. We expect our groups and chapters to follow the same policy.
Q. Is the Federalist Society affiliated with any publications?
A. All members of the Society receive a subscription to The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, a student-run law review for conservative and libertarian legal thought. The Society publishes a magazine, The Federalist Paper, which highlights recent and upcoming Federalist Society events. The Federalist Society Practice Groups also produces an online legal journal, The Federalist Review. We do not have any affiliation with the web magazine known as The Federalist.
Q. Who joins the Federalist Society?
A. Many prominent lawyers, law students, and scholars in America are members or involved with our work. Membership is open to anyone who wishes to join the Society, and the organization often attracts people who share a desire for public service.
Q. Who can attend Federalist Society meetings?
A. Everyone is welcome to the programs of our more than 200 law school chapters, over 100 metropolitan lawyers chapters, and 15 nationwide practice groups. The several hundred events sponsored each year by the Federalist Society are publicly advertised and are open to the press and the general public. A number of our events are on television or are webcast.
Q. Who are some of the Federalist Society's participants and speakers?
A. The Society has a strong reputation for hosting speakers on all sides of the ideological spectrum. A number of the Society's most frequent and prominent speakers - from the Left as well as the Right - attest to the fact that the Society has contributed a great deal to free speech, free debate, and the public understanding of the Constitution.
Q. Who are some of the Federalist Society's financial supporters?
A. 90% of the funding comes from individuals and foundations; the other 10% comes from corporations. The Society does not take money from any political party or group affiliated with a political party or from the federal government.
What People Are Saying
“The Federalist Society is changing the culture of our nation's law schools. You are returning the values and concepts of law as our founders understood them to scholarly dialogue, and through that dialogue, to our legal institutions.”
- President Ronald Reagan
"The Federalist Society has missed no opportunity to assert that the Constitution had been stretched way beyond the Founding Fathers' intentions. They taught, studied, and spoke so diligently that even many liberals came to accept their views."
-The Boston Globe
“[T]he Federalist Society has brought to campus the commitment to real, honest, vigorous, and open discussion. It is a result of the works of the Federalist Society to create a wonderful environment for discussing social, political, legal, and constitutional issue.”
- Dean Paul Brest, Stanford Law School
“...[T]here is no denying that the Federalist Society has left its mark on legal scholarship. Whether this is in fact due to a vast right-wing conspiracy or merely to the persuasiveness of some of its arguments, the intellectual descendants of James Madison can no longer be ignored.”
- Lingua Franca
“It has been my pleasure to speak at many Federalist Society gatherings around the country, and I think one thing your organization has definitely done is to contribute to free speech, free debate, and most importantly public understanding of, awareness of, and appreciation of the Constitution. So that's a marvelous contribution, and…in a way I must say I'm jealous at how the Federalist Society has thrived at law schools.”
- Nadine Strossen, President, ACLU
“[T]he convention of the Federalist Society was a show of intellectual firepower and numerical forces by conservatives who have already begun to change the terms of legal debate and to revive legal doctrines that were for decades dismissed as historical curiosities.”
- The New York Times
“The Society is a high-quality, idea-exchanging group in which conservatives and republicans hash out their positions on public policy issues…There is no liberal-Democratic counterpart to the Federalist Society, which is a pity, given the robustness of the debate.”
- Government Computer News
“It is not the dignitaries who are the real cause of hope, however. What is an enormously refreshing and hopeful sign is to see the young people who make up the membership of the Federalist Society. Earnest, intelligent, and unpretentious, these are the young men and women of whom any nation and any age could be proud.”
- Dr. Thomas Sowell, Hoover Institution
"There was a time when we thought that intellectual ferment was on the left and the right was brain dead. The Federalist Society played a major role in reversing that assumption."
Acting Solicitor General, The Clinton Administration
“[T]his organization has played an important part in sparking a dialogue between lawyers and judges, and even at times amongst judges themselves...by assiduously avoiding the temptation to take positions, or to lobby and engage in political advocacy. Resisting that temptation takes discipline, I am sure, but rest assured that you have made the right choice and are providing a genuine and unique service in so doing. Stay the course!”
-Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court
“It is a great pleasure for me to be in front of the Federalist Society. I am a tremendous admirer of this organization. I agree completely that it has served an enormously valuable function, in getting the debate going about the meaning of the constitution. The fact that there are two sides to the debate is evidenced by my presence here, today, but your contribution to stimulating a debate, to getting us on the other side to think more clearly about our issues, and to presenting to the American public issues…has performed an enormously useful function.”
-Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School
“The Federalist Society has made important contributions to the nation's understanding of our constitutional heritage.”
-Vice President Richard Cheney
"They've been remarkably successful in bringing together various parts of the conservative movement. I only want the left to have its own Federalist Society."
-Erwin Chemerinsky, Duke University Law School
Associated Press, 7/18/05
“First, I am delighted to be here. I admire the bringing together of a panel like this by the Federalist Society. I have often disagreed with the Federalist Society but I applaud the way they foster dialogue.”
-Jerome Shestack, Former President, ABA
“The Federalist Society has done more for the health of the law than any organization I have witnessed in my career.”
-Judge Robert Bork
"They are not a uniform bunch. There is a libertarian strand, who want to reduce regulation; and a judicial constraint strand that wants the federal courts to back off; and an originalist strand, that the constitution should mean what it was when it was ratified, which has radical and preposterous implications."
The Financial Times, 6/21/05
“…you [The Federalist Society] have already made…a considerable, an indispensable contribution to the dialogue about the rule of law which lies at the heart of the great freedoms that I am convinced many of us take for granted every single day of our lives. And I salute you for this intellectual vigor in framing the issues… The Federalist Society is a true example of how semi-closed societies can be transformed, at least in part, by allowing new thoughts to be aired and by allowing a free competition of ideas.”
-Chief Judge Ralph Winter, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
“[The Federalist Society] puts a value on open debate, and on the belief that true legal education demands an exposure to a diversity of views, a free and open exchange.”
-Dean Robert Clark, Harvard Law School
“[T]he Federalist Society has brought to campus the commitment to real, honest, vigorous, and open discussion. It is a result of the works of the Federalist Society to create a wonderful environment for discussing social, political, legal, and constitutional issues.”
-Dean Paul Brest, Stanford Law School
“[T]he Federalist Society has developed a reputation for being a lively and open forum for serious discussion about important legal topics. Liberals and conservatives are regularly brought together to debate and exchange views. Not only has the group hosted events with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and former Judge Robert Bork, but other speakers have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen, Congressman Barney Frank and Jamin Raskin of the Rainbow Coalition. I wish every legal group welcomed such a broad array of speakers.”
-Richard Thornburgh, Former U.S. Attorney General
“First, I have to start by thanking the Federalist Society for inviting me here. I've done a lot of academic conferences in my career, and I always find the Federalist Society the most enjoyable because the Federalist Society is the organization that is least afraid of inviting people whom they know seriously disagree with them.”
-Professor William Marshall, Northwestern University and
Associate White House Counsel under President Bill Clinton
“My message is very simple. It's to applaud the Federalist Society for its extraordinary commitment to the contest of ideas…I applaud the spirit of the Federalist Society in putting in on conferences that really do capture the importance of diversity and viewpoint in education. Thank you very much for honoring us with your presence.”
-Dean John Sexton, NYU School of Law
“I have never been at a Federalist Society debate that has not been fairly run, that has not aimed high, that has not asked the hard questions and confronted the intellectual problems. [I]t is one of the prizes of the NYU Law School to have a Federalist Society Chapter that is intellectually vigorous and successful in being [such a] part of the mainstream of the intellectual life of this school as the chapter [is] here, and I am very grateful.”
-Professor Burt Neuborne, NYU Law School and
former ACLU President
“I want to thank the Federalist Society for inviting me to be here… I want to thank you for your open-mindedness and liberalism…for inviting me to this panel. I salute the Federalist Society for bringing together such a terrific collision of ideas, and I hope I won't disappoint you.”
-Professor Jamin Raskin, American University and
former General Counsel, National Rainbow Coalition
“Had I but known that the Federalist Society was not the stuffy group of intellectual giants, but was instead a convivial and jovial assemblage of great mental giants, I would have come here much earlier. I am exceedingly grateful to the Society for inviting me to participate.”
-Lynn Abraham, District Attorney, Philadelphia
“I'm pleased to be here at the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention. I've been here before, and I enjoy being here.”
-Bernard Nussbaum, former Clinton White House Counsel
“I'm always happy to speak to the Federalist Society, because I am something of an unabashed Madisonian; I think that he helped shape a constitutional system which is unique and has proven itself time and time again to be inspired. And this Society, of course, advances many of those values.”
-Jonathan Turley, George Washington University
“I have long been an admirer of the academic integrity that characterizes the Federalist Society's symposia…Indeed, the organizers of the gathering have done such an extraordinary job of bringing together participants from all ideological persuasions that this Symposium promises a series of debates and discussions that will become classics in the continuing dialogue about our constitutional order.”
-Dean Robert W. Bennett, Northwestern University School of Law
“This conference continues the admirable tradition of the Federalist Society, a tradition which emphasizes the unique role of law students in fostering a robust marketplace of ideas about law, and in maintaining the interdisciplinary focus of the modern university law school.”
-Dean Robert E. Scott, University of Virginia Law School
“I want to thank you…for having me here. I think it's admirable that you set up your program to present diverse viewpoints and invite among you such really very deep-dyed liberals as myself.”
-Professor Barbara Babcock, Stanford University
“I was told that Federalist Society conventions were intellectually serious, courteous, and open to various points of view, and that has certainly been my experience.”
-Professor Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law
“They promote debate, and that is a good thing. Their ideas are absolutely legitimate ideas. They are respectable ideas that need to be debated, and that is the valuable function that the Society serves. I don't happen to agree with many of their conclusions, but the debate is important and valid.”
-Dean Geoffrey Stone, University of Chicago Law School
“I am proud to say that the Federalist Society was founded in part at the University of Chicago, and one of its best characteristics has been an attack on liberal shibboleths by looking at real consequences and specific problems and by asking what law actually does.”
-Professor Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago Law School
“I thank the Federalist Society for inviting me to participate today. I thank all of you for coming. This is probably the largest gathering I've seen in the ten years I've been here. I think it's wonderful for so many people to gather to think about and talk about ideas.”
-Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, University of Southern California
“[They are] people who care very deeply, work very hard and wrestle a lot with these things…It's a good thing, not a bad thing…”
-Anthony Podesta, People for the American Way
“I'm delighted, as always, to be speaking before a Federalist Society audience. I take every opportunity to accept your speaking invitations. I always feel so at home, and I love reminding folks who may not remember this, among your founding principles is that the State exists to preserve freedom. It reminds me very much of another organization that's near and dear to me.”
-Nadine Strossen, President, ACLU