Three longtime figures in the conservative legal world are arguing that the Federalist Society has drifted from its purpose as a mere association of conservative legal scholars and has become a group hostile to democracy itself.
In a dire warning published in The New York Times opinion section on Tuesday, attorney George Conway, former Appellate Judge Michael Luttig, and former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) — all of whom sit on the board of the newly formed Society for the Rule of Law Institute — spoke out on the Federalist Society’s silence in the face of the threat posed by former President Donald Trump.
“American democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law are the righteous causes of our times, and the nation’s legal profession is obligated to support them. But with the acquiescence of the larger conservative legal movement, these pillars of our system of governance are increasingly in peril,” thehy wrote. “The dangers will only grow should Donald Trump be returned to the White House next November” — particularly in light of his reported plans to remake the federal government, stock the civil service with loyalists, and target his political enemies with the Justice Department.
A true conservative legal movement is necessary to counterbalance this risk, they wrote — but the Federalist Society is no longer that.
Once upon a time, they wrote, the Federalist Society “served a principled role, connecting young lawyers with one another and with career opportunities, promoting constitutional scholarship and ultimately providing candidates for the federal bench and Supreme Court. But the Federalist Society has conspicuously declined to speak out against the constitutional and other legal excesses of Mr. Trump and his administration. Most notably, it has failed to reckon with his effort to overturn the last presidential election and his continued denial that he lost that election. When White House lawyers are inventing cockamamie theories to stop the peaceful transition of power and copping pleas to avoid jail time, it’s clear we in the legal profession have come to a crisis point.”
Indeed, the Federalist Society has worked arm in arm with Trump, with its leader Leonard Leo playing a key role in appointing judges who have pushed his ideas. And Leo himself is now under investigation for his apparent personal use of the organization’s funds, although House Republicans are trying to shield him with threats aimed at the investigators.
Ultimately, they concluded, “we need an organization of conservative lawyers committed to the foundational constitutional principles we once all agreed upon: the primacy of American democracy, the sanctity of the Constitution and the rule of law, the independence of the courts, the inviolability of elections and mutual support among those tasked with the solemn responsibility of enforcing the laws of the United States.”
And while they might have different views on the Constitution than liberal lawyers, “we welcome them with open arms” because “our country is in a constitutional emergency” and everyone must work hand in hand to stop it.