The Federalist Society: Architects of the American dystopia

Christopher Rhodes

Last week was one of the most consequential weeks in the history of the United States Supreme Court – and perhaps that of the country itself.

In a matter of days, the court shielded police officers from being sued for Miranda violations; further broadened its already expansive interpretation of gun rights; narrowed the separation of church and state when it comes to religious education; and overturned Roe v Wade, eliminating the right to abortion and eroding the underlying rights to privacy and control over one’s own body upon which Roe had been built.

Millions of people who are infuriated, terrified or dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions have put the blame for these outcomes on different people: The conservative justices themselves who set aside precedent to enact their agenda; Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and the other Republicans who nominated and confirmed these judges; and of course ineffective Democrats who failed to heed warning signs that such results were on their way and do something to avert the looming threats.

Amid all the recriminations, some opponents of the court’s recent decisions have held one organisation in particular responsible for these developments: The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, an organisation that is far from a household name, but that wields almost unparalleled power within the US government.

The Federalist Society, as it is commonly known by the people who are even aware of its existence, started out in the 1980s as a debating society for conservative students at a handful of elite American law schools such as Yale and the University of Chicago.

Initially, the main purpose of the organisation was to provide space for conservatives on university campuses to develop arguments against what they saw as domineering liberal interpretations of the law. The Federalist Society instead promoted an approach called “textualism” or “originalism”, which its proponents say interprets laws based on the plain meaning of their wording and the ways in which they were understood at the time they were passed.

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