For the Federalist Society, the opportunities and challenges have never been greater.
That was going to be the lead for this message before COVID-19 broke. At the time, I was thinking of the opportunities and challenges brought to the Society by increased press attention, with the result that many students and lawyers with any interest in public policy now know our name or have, at the very least, encountered a description of what we do, even if it’s inaccurate.
COVID-19 has not led these earlier challenges and opportunities to disappear. But it has presented new ones, of a different and in some ways even more fundamental kind.
Since 1982, we have worked diligently to promote three 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 biggest challenge we now face is a new one: how to confront the COVID-19 threat vigorously and with the necessary resolve while continuing to respect these principles. The rule of law and the Constitution leave room for emergency measures. But exactly what? What can federal or state executives order? And what can be done to limit appropriate emergency actions to the emergency, given the well-established tendency for temporary increases in governmental power to remain in place indefinitely after the emergency has passed?
We do not have all the answers. But we are convinced that the Society’s general approach to controversial questions—one that gives all perspectives a fair and level platform and that elevates, rather than degrades, the standards for public discussion and debate—can help inform solutions to this challenge as well.
COVID-19 also presents the Society with operational challenges. Because of your support, the Federalist Society now maintains student chapters at nearly every ABA-accredited law school in America, as well as professional events for legal practitioners in more than 100 cities nationwide. In 2019, our conferences continued to be a major draw for our members, with the 2019 National Lawyers Convention attracting more than 2,400 people. We held extensive programming in the states, where we examined the role of state, as well as federal, judges. And, because of your generosity, ideas about originalism, the rule of law, and the importance of free markets are now widely discussed throughout the legal community.
For most of the Society’s history, this discussion has largely taken place through in-person meetings. The closing of law school campuses and restrictions on public gatherings means that at least in the near term that model will not work. Fortunately, over the past five years, the Society has greatly expanded its virtual offerings. The current crisis gives us the opportunity to take this work to the next level.
In spite of past challenges, our efforts have met with enormous success. We remain convinced that even greater opportunities lie ahead. This is largely because of our tremendous supporters and volunteers. We thank you and are grateful to so many of you for your help in all of this. Because of all that you do, our work is both possible and tremendously rewarding.
Eugene B. Meyer
President & CEO