- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005


Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. is a member of the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal society, and has addressed both the national organization and its student chapters on a number of occasions.

Judge Alito’s Federalist Society membership is seen as “an important signal to conservatives in the legal community,” said John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who worked in the U.S. Justice Department from 2001 through 2003.

“It shows an interest in thinking deeply about the role of the courts in society and the proper interpretation of the Constitution based on its text and history,” said Mr. Yoo, himself a member of the Federalist Society since his college days.

Mr. Yoo said the administration has been sensitive about the society’s influence ever since receiving “McCarthyite” criticism early on from liberals unhappy with the Bush team for drawing heavily from the society’s ranks for top government jobs and judicial nominations.

Judge Alito’s selection is a welcome change for the group after the past two Supreme Court nominations:

• John G. Roberts Jr., the new chief justice, is well liked by Federalist Society members but denied he had ever been a member of the organization after he was nominated to the high court, even though he once was listed in its leadership directory.

• Harriet Miers, who withdrew her nomination to the court, once testified that she “wouldn’t belong to the Federalist Society” or other “politically charged” groups that “seem to color your view one way or another.” As she tried to salvage her nomination, Miss Miers quickly put out word that she regarded the Federalist Society as an important White House ally.

Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a liberal who has spoken at Federalist Society events, said membership is one more way of letting conservatives know that Judge Alito is “one of them,” although it shouldn’t be a basis for questions at his Senate confirmation hearing.

But Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, disagreed, saying Judge Alito’s membership in the society is fair game for the hearings.

“The Federalist Society likes to pretend it’s just a debating club, but for the last 20 years it has been at the forefront of the efforts to push a right-wing counterrevolution in the courts and undo decades’ worth of precedent,” Mr. Neas said.

Judge Alito has been open about his membership in the group, although the society keeps its roster private.

As a federal appeals court judge, Judge Alito’s participation in the society has been limited to avoid any suggestion of bias on issues that could come before his court. He moderated a panel discussion about the USA Patriot Act at the society’s November 2004 national conference, introduced a debate on the independent counsel law at the 1989 national conference, and has addressed the society on other occasions.

University of Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett, a member of the Federalist Society, complained recently that the organization does not always get the recognition for its intellectual influence in conservative politics.



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