Although in existence since 1982, the Federalist Society’s presence at Stanford Law School has recently become much more pronounced. The society, a community of conservatively-minded law school students, has grown significantly in recent years due to varying factors.
According to Barbara Smith, the current Stanford Federalist Society’s vice president of events, the original meetings of the group 30 years ago were “small enough to fit in [one professor’s] office.” But now, things have changed.
James Bergstrom, the current president of the Stanford Federalist Society, said that two years ago, the Federalist Society was comprised of only about 15 active members. Last year, the number climbed to between 20 and 25 active students. Now, according to Bergstrom, the organization at Stanford boasts 30 to 40 actively involved members, not even including all of the people who come to events.
So why has the society seen such notable growth in the past few years? According to Bergstrom, “In the last four years, people have questioned the Democrat agenda in a way that is more constitutional than political, which may have lead people to law school… Conservatives are more than ever realizing the importance of the judicial branch and the need for conservative/libertarian influence to counteract the liberal law school ideology.”
But Bergstrom also attributes the growth of the society both at Stanford and nationally to “fiscal conservatism and limited government… People may not have opened themselves up to it before, but now they are.”
Professor Michael McConnell, a faculty supporter of the Federalist Society at Stanford, believes the organization has grown because “right now a lot of young people are questioning the current direction of public affairs.”
Chris Grieco, a previous vice president of the society, believes it will continue to expand, as “conservative viewpoints are being better understood if not accepted.”
However, not everyone acknowledges the growth. Rufat Yunayev, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild, a more liberal organization, stated that he has “not been aware of a change in conservative voices at school, be it upwards or downward.”
Sean Hassan, president of The American Constitution Society at Stanford, another generally liberal organization, said, “Students tend to join the Federalist Society fairly soon after they arrive on campus, which suggests that they already hold the views of the Federalist Society when they get here.”
The organization’s views tend to fall on the conservative side of the political spectrum, which the organization sees as critical to its mission. The Federalist Society believes that “law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society.”
Their goal is to uphold “the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to [the] Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”
The Federalist Society was designed to show students that there are two sides to every issue. “This is a response to the pendulum swinging far too wide in one direction,” Bergstrom stated. “We have transitioned the argument from Left v. Far Left back to Left v. Right.”
The Federalist Society conducts outreach to the law school community through debates and speeches with prominent law figures. “Our events always draw a large crowd, just because we offer interesting debates,” said Smith.
The audience is not limited to only conservatives and/or libertarians. Rather the debates draw people from across the political spectrum.
Barbara stated that the Federalist Society “link[s] conservative members together.” She continued, “So when you’re sitting in class you don’t feel like you’re the only one who maybe has a dissenting opinion. You know there are other folks there who are going to back you up if you say something a little out of the ordinary.”