Marla R. Stevens

Why Roberts' Federalist Society Membership is a Concern

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | July 19, 2005 10:55 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

As I pointed out earlier, Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. is a leading member of the Federalist Society, a group dedicated to the radical remaking of the law and legal profession. Here's an excerpt from a PFAW look at that group:

For example, all three people listed by the Federalist Society as gay rights law experts hold views that are hostile to gay rights.

Michael Carvin, a Washington, D.C., attorney, actually represented Equal Rights, Not Special Rights, the political group that worked to overturn Cincinnati's human rights ordinance protecting gays from discrimination. Carvin praised a court ruling that upheld Issue 3, an anti-gay amendment to Cincinnati's city charter. "[The amendment] frees up local communities to pass initiatives like [Cincinnati's]," he said.

Another of the experts, Notre Dame law professor Charles E. Rice, has strongly anti-gay views and has even attacked his university's administration for failing to emphasize the message that "[h]omosexual acts are intrinsically wrong."

The third expert offered to journalists is David M. Wagner, a law professor at Regent University, which was founded by right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson. In June 1999, Wagner signed onto a letter by 157 law professors that criticized an upcoming legal conference for discussing "the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships." The letter signed by Wagner argued that laws "to include same-sex unions" would create "unprecedented moral, social and legal confusion..."


Instead of advocating change piecemeal -- one lawsuit or one bill at a time -- the Society seeks to produce much broader change by altering the entire legal landscape. This includes developing and promoting far-right positions, guiding law students and young lawyers accordingly, and influencing who will become judges, top government officials, and decision-makers. It urges law students to join its law school chapters by noting that the Society "creates an informal network of people with shared views which can provide assistance in job placement."

To sum up the importance of the Society's outreach to law school students, the right-wing magazine Insight quoted former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter's observation: "In the last analysis, the law is what the lawyers are." And once they become lawyers, the Society's lawyers' division seeks to build a network of attorneys to "exercise leadership in shaping national, state, and local policy."


Many of those who hold key leadership positions in the Federalist Society have campaigned to dramatically undermine civil and constitutional rights protections. Many of these leaders help oversee the Society's practice groups on civil rights and constitutional liberties. Charles J. Cooper, who chairs the organization's practice group on civil rights, is a well-known opponent of traditional anti-discrimination efforts. In fact, Cooper co-wrote an opinion while serving in the Reagan Justice Department that federal law did not prevent employers from refusing to hire people with AIDS if those employers cited a "fear of contagion, whether reasonable or not."

An article on the Society's Web site by Princeton University professor and leading Federalist Society member Robert George and attorney Bill Saunders attacks the U.S. Supreme Court's 1996 Romer v. Evans decision on anti-gay discrimination for curbing the ability of a state "to employ its 'police power' to protect public morals..." George and Saunders write that if the repeal of state sodomy laws encourages the Supreme Court "to raise homosexuality to protected status, perhaps such conduct should not be de-criminalized in the first place."

The chairman-elect of the civil rights practice group, Michael Carvin (see Undeniably Ideological), is no more friendly than Cooper to the civil rights of gay Americans. Carvin formerly worked for Cooper when he was in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. In addition, he is a founder of the Center for Individual Rights [another Roberts fav group], a far-right legal organization that, according to its Web site, files lawsuits pertaining to civil rights, congressional authority, elections, equal protection, the First Amendment, free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech.


The leading voices of the Society share an ideology that is hostile to civil rights, reproductive rights, religious liberties, environmental protection, privacy rights, and health and safety standards, and would strip our federal government of the power to enforce these rights and protections. While individual members of the Society may hold different views, the driving force of the Society -- its leadership -- is united behind this extreme ideology. Even the words that define the purpose of government and the courts for ordinary people, fundamental values such as "fairness" and "tolerance," have been called into dispute. Richard Posner, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge with close ties to the Federalist Society, has derided these words as "terms which have no content."

I am under no illusions that the Judiciary Committee will put Judge Roberts' Federalist Society membership under the microscopic scrutiny it deserves. After all, Senator Orrin Hatch's son, Brent, is the Society's treasurer (one of the movers and shakers behind Bush's abandonment of the longtime practice of vetting nominees through the impartial American Bar Association after the ABA found four of their members less than adequately qualified for the bench) -- and Sen. Hatch himself is a member in good standing -- and it's no accident:

Curtis Moore, a former Republican counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, recently offered a case study of how the Society's "network" operates and how far it extends. He noted the relentless attacks leveled by ultra-conservatives in Congress on the Clean Air Act. Moore noted that in May 1998 Senator Orrin Hatch filed a 29-page brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, attacking the EPA's particulate standard. The brief, Moore explained, "was written by one member of the Federalist Society board, C. Boyden Gray, to be filed on behalf of another member of the Federalist Society board, Orrin Hatch, to defend the corporate interests of a member of the Business Advisory Council of the Federalist Society, Joseph Cannon of Geneva Steel, in a case to be heard by two judges, [Douglas] Ginsburg and [Stephen] Williams, who are active participants in Federalist Society events..." In addition, Gray had lobbied on behalf of Geneva Steel from January 1996 to July 1997.

With the increased public scrutiny that the Society has recently received, Meyer and other leaders have downplayed its objectives. In April, for example, Meyer insisted that the group is simply interested in "discussion and in getting ideas heard." Yet even activists on the far right don't seem to accept this explanation. Said ultra-conservative activist Grover Norquist: "If Hillary Clinton had wanted to put some meat on her charge of a 'vast right-wing conspiracy,' she should have had a list of Federalist Society members and she could have spun a more convincing story."

I encourage you to read the report in its entirety and to investigate its extensive reference list -- but first:

Phone your senators, then follow up with written notes by e-mail and snail mail (postcards and foldover notes raise fewer security issues and are processed more quickly than sealed letters.)

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AUTHOR: Anjala

DATE: 7/20/2005 09:26:25 AM

I just wanted to let you know that I linked my Live Journal to your posts here. I want others to be informed.Thank you!

AUTHOR: Marla R. Stevens

DATE: 7/20/2005 01:28:26 PM

Wow! Thank you!

AUTHOR: The Quotable Queer

DATE: 7/20/2005 07:56:52 PM

There seems to be new information out there that doesn't place Rogers as a member of the Federalist Society, but instead he simply gave a speech to them at some point. I realize in the world of spin that it is quite possible for those who don't want this nominee sabotaged by his connection to the Federalist Society to alter his engagement with them.

AUTHOR: Marla R. Stevens

DATE: 7/21/2005 01:52:31 AM

That goes beyond spin, which is telling the truth but colored to one's own favor, to just plain old "going to Hell for that one" lying.Not that that should surprise anyone, given this administration's history. In comparison, this lie is a mild one -- nobody's under oath before Congress (yet), it's not getting 1500+ American soldiers killed and 20,000+ maimed and countless others psychologically scarred, etc. Heck, even when this administration tells the truth, they commit treason -- then lie about their intent to tolerate it employmentwise, so why wouldn't they expect the public to look the other way when they tell a baldfaced lie to maintain an illusion of moderacy for a stealth nominee? After all, the American public has bought all their other crud, haven't they? And they haven't even played pussyfoot with the terror threat level about it yet!

AUTHOR: Marla R. Stevens

DATE: 7/21/2005 02:09:42 AM

What really matters, though, is that he rules from the bench like he is Federalist Society founder Robert Bork himself. His reasoning on the Endangered Species Act is particularly telling on that one and would lead to overturning Lawrence, Romer, and any federal court decision that mimicked the Massachusetts Supremes' reasoning on equal access to civil marriage for same-sex couples. There was a particularly good discussion about it on NPR's Fresh Air with University of Chicago/Harvard/Columbia law professor Cass Sunstein. Indianapolis ex-pat Holly Robinson has a handy link to it on Julien's List blog: