Federalist society is no longer entirely sure of democracy
On the dais, panelists squirmed at the invocation of such pedestrian political ideas, and Alicea offered high-level philosophical objections to the idea that America should fracture into independent ideological entities. But the question seemed to linger in the room: if disagreements over democratic first principles are as serious as Alicea had suggested, then was the idea of a global political break really so radical?
The possibility of dramatic changes in America’s democratic order also loomed over a panel on election law, where Richard Pildes, professor of constitutional law at New York University, briefed the audience onMoore v. Harper, a case that is currently awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court. The case, which stems from a challenge to North Carolina’s redistricting plan, is widely seen by legal scholars as a referendum on the controversial independent state legislature theory, which posits that state legislatures should be allowed to exercise broad control over the running of federal elections.
From the stage, Pildes – who testified about the dangers of the theory before the House last year – seemed convinced that the judges were not ready to endorse the theory in its most radical form. But even though the several panelists acknowledged the disruptive nature of the theory, none of them seemed keen to acknowledge that the four members of the Court who flirted with the idea – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – all maintain strong ties to Federalist society.
This omission hinted at a deeper dilemma facing the Federalist Society. Despite liberal accusations that the society is merely a stubborn puppet of the Republican Party, many members of the society truly consider themselves independent-minded intellectuals, committed to the principles of individual liberty, judicial restraint, and justice. rule of law. For the past two decades, members of society have invoked these principles to justify the conservative movement’s efforts to weaken democratic norms and institutions, without having to go so far as to explicitly assert that a minority of Americans should be authorized to impose its will on the entire country.
But now, as the American right moves toward a more explicitly anti-democratic stance, members of society face a troubling possibility: that most conservatives don’t care about their lofty principles and, even worse, that many Many of their allies see their commitment to these principles as a quaint – and slightly embarrassing – relic of the bygone era when conservatives still had to be coy about what they actually believed. And whether or not these criticisms are true, there was a distinct sense of cognitive dissonance at the conference, where many panelists seemed willing to endorse the logic of the anti-democratic arguments, but turned away from the more radical conclusions of those arguments.
The next morning at breakfast, I met a University of Tulsa law student named James Carroll – who was, like me, one of the few male attendees who didn’t wear a suit and tie. He told me he grew up in Arizona before moving to Tulsa for law school, where he fell in love with Oklahoma, married his longtime girlfriend, and put down roots. He had recently accepted a job with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked as a law school intern.
As we talked, he described a vision of democracy that I hadn’t heard much about from the panelists the day before – democracy as something immediate, something pragmatic, something with which people interact in their daily lives and not just in philosophy textbooks.
“At the national level, democracy is only a construct, but at the local level, it is not a construct at all,” he said.
I asked him what a functioning local democracy meant to him.
“Keep your community safe, keep murderers off the streets, make sure people who need mental health support can be connected to these services,” he replied. He said his favorite part of interning at the DA’s office while in law school was helping people with mental health issues, and his work on that issue was part of what made him happy. led him to join the office after graduation.
“Democracy,” he said, “works best on a small scale, in your community.”
“Maybe we need more shitty posters”
Jhe Federalist Society was founded by law students, and advancing the careers of ambitious, right-wing lawyers has remained a major focus of its work. That work begins on law school campuses, where local chapters host speakers and events, and it stretches all the way to Washington, where the Federalist Society has become the go-to GOP clearinghouse for major nominations. judicial. Although much of the national media attention has focused on the organization’s role in supporting Republican Supreme Court nominations, its presence on law school campuses has also been a source of controversy. , especially since theDobbsdecision. Just last week, a Federalist Society event at Stanford Law School made national headlines after protesters heckled Trump-appointed Fifth Circuit U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan. obliging him to cut his remarks short.
In recent years, however, the Federalist Society has come under fire not only from its traditional opponents on the left, but also from some formerly allies on the right. According to these conservative critics, the Federalist Society has excelled in training young monk lawyers to fill the ranks of the federal bench, but it has been less successful in inspiring those same professionals to shun prestigious internships and partnership jobs in favor of justice. management of the judiciary. front lines of an all-out war against the American political establishment.
Or as Theo Wold, a former Trump administration official who now works for the Idaho attorney general, said recently during an interview on theAmerican timepodcast, which is popular with young conservatives, “Maybe [conservatives] you no longer need recognized lawyers. Maybe we need more Twitter shitposters.