The Texan contingent of the Federalist Society met for the 2015 Texas Chapters Conference on September 19, 2015 in Dallas. At the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the conference gathered together many former members of the Bush administration to divine the emerging long-term legal legacy of eight of the most formative years in modern American history.
President Bush himself made a surprise appearance at the beginning of the conference and gave a humorous and thoughtful address about his view of the presidency. He also described the various joys of his life after "spending eight years at one hundred miles per hour," including painting, fitness, and grandchildren, and expressed how his parents' light hearts inspired him to be the same. In all, President Bush offered the same cheer that he was known for all his life, and it proved a perfect start to a day full of intellectual discourse.
After President Bush's address, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings introduced the War on Terror panel, featuring: the Hon. Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; William Haynes, II, former General Counsel for the Department of Justice; the Hon. Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General for the Department of Justice; Larry D. Thompson, former Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Justice; and moderator John Rizzo, former Acting General Counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency. The panel discussed the Department of Justice and the Administration's unreadiness for the unprecedented attacks of September 11, and the enormous work done and the legal battles waged to ensure that America would never again be caught off guard. The speakers reminisced about the shock of that terrible day, the challenges of making America safe, and the assorted mistakes and triumphs along the way. The panel noted how many of the legal issues encountered in the War on Terror were similar to those faced by President Lincoln during the Civil War, as both wars were among the few occasions in which America weathered attacks at home.
The next event was an interview of Keith Hennessey, former Assistant to President Bush for Economic Policy and Director of the U.S. Economic Council, by Marc Kesselman, former General Counsel of the Department of Agriculture and former Deputy General Counsel of the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Kesselman questioned Mr. Hennessey about the momentous dilemmas faced by the Bush administration as the subprime mortgage crisis gradually engulfed the global economy in 2008, to which Mr. Hennessey responded with a forceful defense of the Administration's choices. Mr. Hennessey offered a unique perspective on the difficulty of acting both decisively and within the rule of law, as well as the complications wrought by politics in a time of crisis.
The conference then broke for lunch, and was treated to an excellent keynote by Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Alito began with anecdotes about his nascent baseball career, before offering his views on the most recent Supreme Court term and the various developments in the law during his decade on the Court. Justice Alito made clear his belief in a president energetically enforcing the law, but mentioned his concern with the steady accumulation of executive power that has occurred in the past decade. He then expressed his fears about the state of religious liberty after Obergefell, before moving on to a discussion of the varying protections for different kinds of speech. Justice Alito noted the explosion of thought and discourse about adapting privacy rights to this new technological age, and voiced his desire for legislatures to take the lead in doing so. Finally, Justice Alito happily noted the rise of textualism during his time on the Court, and concluded with his firm optimism for the future of the law.
The final event was a panel featuring: Rachel Brand, Associate Counsel to President Bush and former Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy for the Department of Justice; Reginald J. Brown, former Special Assistant to President Bush; Leonard Leo, Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society; Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel to President Bush; and the moderator, the Hon. Priscilla R. Owen, Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit. The panel discussed how President Bush considered two things above all when appointing judges to the federal courts: the judge's unwillingness to legislate from the bench, and also the judge's willingness to defy popular opinion in doing his or her job. The speakers talked of how President Bush took an interest in his power of appointment that was quite uncommon among presidents, because he realized that the appointment of judges was perhaps the most lasting legacy of any president. The panel then took great pains to analyze the procedural and political intricacies of President Bush's judicial appointments, particularly after the loss of the Senate after the 2006 midterm elections. This in turn led to a discussion of the unsung powers of the Senate in struggles over judicial confirmations, as seen in vivid color during President Bush's second term. The panel concluded by emphasizing how crucial the process of vetting nominees is, and the importance of having skilled White House counsel to that end.
The panel on the judiciary was the final event of the conference. The attendants exited the auditorium in which the events had been held, and were treated to a reception in the foyer. One can imagine that the sight of over two hundred accomplished Federalist Society lawyers discussing the insights of the day was a treat in itself, and a fitting end to the conference.
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See an album of photos from the event on our Facebook page.