by Amanda Hollis-Brusky, professor of political science at Pomona College
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies has been no stranger to accusations of this kind over the years. Those on the left and the right universally acknowledge that the Federalist Society is an organization of significant consequence. But very few understand how this self-professed “society of ideas” with none of the traditional signs of political power is exerting its influence on law and the legal culture. Drawing on a trove of archival, ethnographic and original interview data, Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution addresses this question head on.
The Federalist Society – a network of more than 40,000 conservative and libertarian lawyers, academics, judges, policymakers, and journalists dedicated to reshaping the law – grew out of the frustrations of a small group of right-of-center law students who felt isolated in their left-of-center law schools in the 1980s. Inspired by the ideas and tenets of the Reagan Revolution raging outside the walls of their elite law schools, these first Federalist Society members were recruited to work as Special Assistants in the Reagan Justice Department where they heard two oft-repeated phrases: “ideas have consequences,” and “policy is people.” These two phrases would become the two main pillars of the Federalist Society as we know it today – as an organization that intellectually trains and socializes its members, exposing them to a distinctly conservative and libertarian way of thinking about the law and also encourages and facilitates opportunities for its members to put these ideas and principles into practice as lawyers, judges, etc. It is a simple formula, but one that has served them remarkably well over the past thirty years: ideas + people = policy consequences.