The Lame Liberal Attack on the 'Secretive' Federalist Society

There's nothing secretive about this well-known conservative legal organization.


Credit: Library of Congress

In anticipation of this week's Supreme Court oral arguments in the Obamacare case King v. Burwell, ProPublica ran a story on the "secretive" and "behind the scenes" organization whose "hidden hand" is shaping "the intellectual heart of the King v. Burwell legal challenge." What is the identity of this shadowy outfit? What secret cabal has ProPublica unveiled to the world?

It is none other than the Federalist Society, one of the most well-known legal organizations at work in America today. Perhaps my dictionary is out of date, but I don't think the word secretive means what ProPublica thinks it means.

But sure, let's play along. How "secretive" is the "hidden hand" of this "behind the scenes" group of conservative, libertarian, and moderate lawyers and law students?

In 2000 the Washington Monthly profiled the "secretive" Federalist Society and dubbed it "quite simply the best-organized, best-funded, and most effective legal network operating in this country." One year later, the liberal activist group People for the American Way released a widely quoted report on the "secretive" Federalist Society titled "The Federalist Society: From Obscurity to Power." In 2005 Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' possible membership in the "secretive" Federalist Society was big news in The Washington Post. In 2008 the political scientist Steven Teles published a superb book called The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, which devoted a full chapter to the "secretive" Federalist Society's origins, structure, membership, and influence. Former Vice President Al Gore blurbed Teles' book as "an essential road map to the organization mobilization of conservatives over the past century." In 2013 a pair of liberal activists published their own book on this "secretive" group titled The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals. That book turned out to be mostly underwhelming, but it did manage to get reviewed in the well-thumbed pages of The New York Times. And finally, my own recent book, Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court, also examines the Federalist Society's origins and influence. As part of the research for my book, I interviewed Eugene Meyer, the head of this "secretive" organization. He was happy to talk on record. (I should also add that I've recently had the opportunity to speak at several Federalist Society events. Those events were free and open to the public.)

If the Federalist Society is indeed a "secretive" outfit, it may be the worst kept secret in all of American politics.

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  1. The Federalist society is “secretive” conservative judicial organization in the same way the Koch brothers are “secretive” supporters of libertarianism (You know, because running for VP on the Libertarian ticket is a surefire way to make sure no one knows you’re a libertarian.)

    My sense is “secretive” is just a throw-away word for people they don’t like.

    1. If your secret organization has a website and online magazine, you are doing it wrong.

      1. Seriously. I graduated college over a decade ago, did not have any law classes, and was quite familiar with the Federalist Society and their views. They’ve been publishing pieces for the Journal (which is as mainstream as media gets) for ages.

        Just because you’re not watching someone doesn’t mean they’re secretive.

    2. Agreed that “secretive” is code for “bad thinkers”.

      It would be interesting to find out what these people who are worried about how secretive the Federalist Society think about the transparency of Obama’s administration.

      Or if they had issues with a former SoS using private email to avoid Freedom of Information requests.

      1. “It’s okay when our side does it!”

    3. No, “secretive” means “I’ve never heard of this group before, but I’m super-smart and know everything, so therefore it must have been a secret. There’s not other plausible explanation for why I wouldn’t know about it.”


    4. My sense is “secretive” is just a throw-away word for people they don’t like.

      Sorta, but it goes deeper than that. Consider how the Koch initiatives like ALEC are always described as shadowy. They are conspiracy-mongering here. Anyone opposing progressivism must be described in conspiracy-theory terms. This resonates particularly well with a certain sector of the electorate which is known for believing that a return to slavery is always only a heartbeat away. This is also designed to imply that progressives do everything openly and for the greater good.

      1. They are always shocked to discover that the other side has actual political organization.

        Reminds me of the recent discussion about SJWs twitter mobbing people on Twitter. One argument I heard from a progressive is that they need to reduce “noise” which interferes with the “discussion” they are having (on a public communications medium), thus twitter mobbing people with certain views they consider illegitimate way is seens as a way of shutting up the sources of “noise” so they can continue that “discussion”. It’s as if they really think they (as in liberal-progressives) OWN the medium, as if their discussions are the only real, legitimate discussions. They think of themselves as society’s brain, so when they see other people trying to move the body in a different direction they are always horrified and disquieted. They never communicate with those people. They don’t exist in the same world. They are like alien forces coming from outside, disrupting the harmony of their social project. Thus scary, subversive, secretive… etc.

        1. It’s non-barbarians simply unfollow the “noisy” people on twitter.

          1. But they are still allowed to use the same Hashtags!

      2. Okay, now I keep getting confused.

        I know Ron Paul is the one with the blimp. Is it the Kochs who have the volcano island, or is that the Federalist Society. And then, who has the undersea lair?

        1. Dick Cheney, I believe.

          1. I see Cheney as more of a “volcano island” sort of man.

            1. And it’s the Koch’s who have the undersea lair.
              Why else would they refer to their organization as ‘Kochtopus’?

          2. I thought Dick Cheney had the sharks with friggin’ laser beams.

        2. So…Ron Paul stole Goodrich’s blimp? Now the world in which Goodrich doesn’t have a blimp makes more sense to me.

    5. “Secretive” means they spent yrs. trying to get your att’n, but you weren’t paying it. But other people paid att’n, and now you’re upset that those other people did so & therefore have an advantage over you.

  2. Why, only some shadowy extremist would actually read the Constitution!

  3. Looks like someone didn’t know the secret handshake. Someone telling you to piss off isn’t necessarily being secretive.

  4. You know who else used a “secretive” organization in full view of the public to shape political outcomes…

    1. Nick Fury?

    2. Professor X?

    3. Jesus?

    4. Lyndon Larouche?

    5. Tyrion Lannister?

  5. Sure they are out, open and recognized….but who knows what shadowy hand really guides this cabal!!!1!1eleventy!1oneoneone!

  6. “The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals.”

    You can’t take a law back anymore a country.


    1. *scatches head*
      Yes? I don’t know what you want to hear!

      1. ‘Let’s take back our country!’

        ‘Let’s take back our (liberal) laws!’

        Conservatives didn’t take ‘laws’ back. What they mean to say is they ‘took’ – and this is just my guess – the narrative.

    2. You can’t take a law back anymore a country.



    3. The title of the book tells the whole story.

      30 years ago, when I attended law school, the left viewed the judiciary, and the federal judiciary in particular, as it’s personal preserve. “Using the law as a tool for social change” was the big thing. That the right would get the idea of forming it’s own legal foundations to pursue its agenda was, and remains, an utter outrage to the left.

    4. Not “a law”, “The Law”. I.e. not the statutes and precedents, but the legal process.

  7. Remember, progs are all about projection. Which means the Federalist society isn’t secretive, but all of their groups are

    1. This too.

      Is this Federalist Society thing anything like JournoList?

  8. The left engages in mischaracterization. Nothing secret about that.

  9. A Secretive Society’s Hidden Hand

    The Hidden Hand

    I hadn’t thought about this album in years. Thanks, ProPublica!

  10. Muahhahaha, haha haha *continues to cackle in a maniacal manner*

    You’ll never know about our secret federalist society that happens to publicly advertise our meetings to attract new membership. Also, I take offense at their characterization of the FedSoc as conservative. They have been more than accepting of this libertarian. Heck I’m even an officer in my campus chapter.

    *goes back to maniacal cackling*

    1. Good for you. I wish I was more involved in politics, but I find it so discouraging to constantly lose.

      1. It’s a great group, and the networking in the local legal community is awesome! I’ve gotten to meet some very interesting figures in national politics, and even gotten to express my views to them privately (on occasion).

        I’ve met more “movers and shakers” in the FedSoc than in any other networking oriented event in law school.

        Beyond that, they’re generally hospitable to libertarian views, and have discussions on interesting topics.

  11. Well, you see Damon, Progressive live in their own insular little worlds, reading their own bias-reinforcing websites, that thell them exactly what they want to think. So, obviously, in the insular world that progressive live in, they don’t hear about the Federalist Society much. Yet, they all imagine themselves to be worldly educated people with a vast knowledge of the world. Thus, if they havn’t heard about something, and then suddnely discover that it exists, they imagine that it must have been “hidden”. Hidden, as in deep in the bowels of magazines like the Weekly Standard, where no right-thinking progressive would dare to venture for fear of being exposed to unclean ideas. Thus, the Federalist Society is secretive because only people from that vast shadowy world of unacceptable ideas know about it.

  12. No, the really secretive organization is ALEC. This is the advanced level progs’ version of Koch brothers.

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