Cato at the Federalist Society Convention

The Federalist Society came into being in 1982 after a small group of conservatives and libertarians, concerned about the state of the law and the legal academy in particular, gathered for a modest conference at the Yale Law School, after which two law-student chapters were formed at Yale and at the University of Chicago. Quickly thereafter chapters sprung up at other law schools across the country. And in 1986 those students, now lawyers, started forming lawyer chapters in the cities where they practiced. Today the Federalist Society is more than 55,000 strong, its membership drawn from all corners of the law and beyond.

Toward the end of this past week many of those members gathered in Washington for the society’s 27th annual National Lawyers Convention, highlighted on Thursday evening by a gala black tie dinner at the conclusion of which Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals treated the audience to a wide-ranging interview of Justice Clarence Thomas. The convention sessions, concluding late Saturday, have now been posted at the Federalist Society’s website. As a look at the various panels and programs will show, this year’s theme, “Textualism and the Role of Judges,” was addressed in a wide variety of domains.

Concerning the role of judges, classical liberals and libertarians, who have long urged judges to be more engaged than many conservatives have thought proper, will find several panels of particular interest. Our own Walter Olson spoke about the new age of litigation financing, for example, while Nick Rosenkranz addressed textualism and the Bill of Rights – a panel that also included the spirited remarks of Cato adjunct scholar Richard Epstein. See also Epstein’s discussion of intellectual property on another panel that first day.

Then too you won’t want to miss senior fellow Randy Barnett’s treatment of textualism and constitutional interpretation the next day, especially as he spars with two opponents on the left, or his Saturday debate against Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the proposition before the two was “Resolved: Courts are Too Deferential to the Legislature.” And finally, our own Trevor Burrus was on hand for a book signing: The book he edited, A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case, has just come out and is must reading for those who want to see how the issue of the day, and many days to come, was teed up, legally, by a dedicated band of libertarians before it reached the Supreme Court.