The Federalist Society has faced two especially serious challenges during the last two years. Along with everyone else, we have struggled with the disruptions created by COVID-19 and accompanying restrictions. Since in-person programming is so central to what we do, we feared COVID would destroy many of our chapters. But while it had been difficult for chapters to hold live events, most had been able to ride out this challenge with virtual programming and small get-togethers. Now our normal programming has been rapidly resuming.
Indeed, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have continued to recruit and nourish dedicated volunteers who are committed to reinvigorating the spirit of reasoned debate and robust discussion that has infused the Society since its founding. The return to in-person programming will make it far easier for these leaders to fully experience the camaraderie that has been so central to the Society’s success.
These bonds will be critical to our ability to successfully respond to the second major challenge we are facing: the attack on reason, debate, and discussion as prime values in our country. Members of the far left increasingly work to make it unacceptable to express views they don’t like. Their goal is to discourage any expression of views at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy, and, if that fails, to shame people for even listening to such ideas. This virus has spread from social media to colleges to law schools. Demonstrations against, protests of, and even direct disruptions of our events have increased markedly. Nor is this limited to campuses. The attempt to tell people what they must think has also infected the corporate world, from tech companies to other Fortune 500 corporations to major publishers. It has even spread to law firms, where it is beginning to displace the longstanding ethos that it is the lawyer’s duty to represent the unpopular client.
Society has progressed, when it has, through reason, debate, and discussion. These were the seeds of our Constitution and the separation of powers. Our future depends on successfully maintaining our commitment to these practices.
Since its founding, the Federalist Society has championed reasoned debate and robust discussion. These are the lawyer’s primary tools, since law relies principally on reasoned persuasion for its legitimacy. And we believe our ideas about law will do well in a fair fight, and that if they don’t they should be revised or revisited. We also have always valued the diversity of views among our members.
Until recently, reasoned debate and robust discussion were widely shared commitments at universities and in law schools, and therefore they were not major topics of discussion or programming. Now that these commitments are increasingly challenged, the Federalist Society is seeking to address the challenge through its Freedom of Thought Project. Our in-person programming offers students the opportunity to hear important views about legal questions they would not otherwise be exposed to; this is key to countering the isolation the illiberal left seeks to make dissenters feel. Just as importantly, through the debates and discussions we sponsor, we model the very reasoned argument and civil disagreement that is being challenged. Crucially, we are creating a space for our members and others to experience the bonds of cheerful fellowship and discover that they are far from alone in doubting efforts to exclude views and end conversation.
The forthcoming pages highlight our programmatic efforts over the last year and demonstrate that we are prepared to move full steam ahead. Thanks to our supporters, volunteers, and donors for all you do to make this possible.
Eugene B. Meyer
President & CEO
Note from the Editor: The Federalist Society takes no positions on particular legal and public policy matters. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. We welcome responses to the views presented here. To join the debate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.