The Federalist Society

The Federalist Society is one of the largest and most influential conservative legal organizations in the U.S.

About The Federalist Society

One of the Largest and Most Influential Legal Organizations in the U.S., The Federalist Society Has Helped Move Once Fringe Legal Theories Into the Mainstream, and Stacked the Judicial System with Conservative Judges

The Federalist Society is one of the largest and most influential conservative legal organizations in the U.S. Leonard Leo, the organization’s longtime vice president and current co-chairman, has used his position in the Federalist Society to reshape federal and state courts. Most notably, the group is connected to the last five Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents and its membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental to the events on January 6, 2021. 

  • The organization has been dubbed the “the conservative pipeline to the Supreme Court,” though its influence permeates all aspects of the conservative elite. Over the past four decades, the Federalist Society has grown its efforts to influence the federal judiciary, and, thanks to Leonard Leo, has ties to all six sitting conservative Supreme Court Justices. With support from Sen. Mitch McConnell and Trump’s White House counsel Don McGahn, Leo made sure that nearly 90% of Trump’s judicial nominees were affiliated with the Federalist Society. The group’s membership also includes top state-level decision-makers like state supreme court justices and state attorneys general, members of Congress, and numerous officials who served in Republican presidential administrations.
  • The Federalist Society’s membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental in the attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the events on January 6, 2021. Federalist Society members who supported attempts to overturn the 2020 election include Trump-ally John Eastman, a senior fellow at the Federalist Society who spoke at the rally preceding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who falsely claimed that he had evidence of voter fraud.

The Federalist Society was founded in 1980 by three law students at Yale University and at the University of Chicago in response to what they perceived as the “pervasive liberalism of America’s law schools.” The organization was established as a nonprofit in 1982 and expanded to include chapters at law schools across the country.

The Federalist Society was created as the “ideological counter-revolution” to the Supreme Court’s decisions over the past thirty years that expanded civil liberties. Between 1954 and 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of civil rights advocates in the areas of abortion, birth control, racial integration, and voting rights. Republican-appointed justices sided with liberal justices in many of these cases, opting to exercise “judicial restraint.” 

In response to the Supreme Court’s liberal shift, members of the Federalist Society wanted to create “a new kind of judicial activism” and “were not shy about demanding that the courts take the lead in restoring the rightful order.”

By 1983, the society had chapters in over a dozen law schools. The group continued to function primarily as an organization for law students until the early 1990s, when conservative activist Leonard Leo helped transform the organization into the powerful judicial group that it is today.

Notable Early Members

  • The group’s first faculty advisers, Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork, were later nominated to federal judgeships by President Ronald Reagan, though only Scalia received Senate confirmation. 
  • In its early years, several other judges who eventually ascended to the Supreme Court were members of the Federalist Society. Clarence Thomas — nominated by President George H. W. Bush in 1991 — joined the society in the 1980s. Samuel Alito, who was nominated in 2005 by President George W. Bush, listed the Federalist Society on a job application in 1985. George W. Bush’s other Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts, was listed as a Federalist Society member in 1997-98. 

Early Funding

  • Wealthy conservative individuals and organizations began buying into the group’s idea to “train, credential, and socialize a generation of alternative elites” through which they could gain control of the courts
  • Within a few years of its founding, the group received funding from foundations associated with John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Richard Scaife, and the Koch brothers. 

Entrance Of Leonard Leo

Conservative activist Leonard Leo has been credited with transforming the Federalist Society from primarily a student organization into the enormously influential group it is today. 

  • Leo founded the Federalist Society chapter at Cornell Law School in the late 1980s, and the society recruited him to work at its D.C. office in 1991. 
  • Leo said the key to expanding the organization’s size and influence was to figure out how to develop “a pipeline” where “you recruit students in law school, you get them through law school, they come out of law school, and then you find ways of continuing to involve them in legal policy.” 

Leonard Leo, Board Co-Chair

Leonard Leo is the longtime former vice president of the Federalist Society, and is an important figure in right-wing legal activism. In 2020, Leo stepped down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society to join CRC Advisors, although he stayed on as FedSoc’s co-chair. 

Leo has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” as the leader of a “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges. The Federalist Society plays a critical role in Leo’s network, cultivating conservative judicial nominees who will interpret the law in ways that are ideologically aligned with the group.  

  • Leo operates a series of nonprofits that can move money without public scrutiny, such as America Engaged, the 85 Fund, the BH Fund, and the Freedom and Opportunity Fund.

Leo has personal and professional ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is an original faculty member of the Federalist Society and a frequent speaker at the organization’s events.

  • Leo has a business relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas, as Thomas has hired Leo’s PR firm CRC Advisors to promote his memoir and a biographical documentary.

Payments to Leo For-Profit Entity CRC Advisors

CRC Advisors, a public relations firm founded in 2020 by Leonard Leo and his longtime associate, Greg Mueller, evolved out of Mueller’s existing conservative communications firm CRC Strategies, which formerly assumed the names CRC Public Relations and Creative Response Concepts. Virtually all of Leo’s nonprofit groups, including the Federalist Society, have paid CRC for public relations work over the years. The Federalist Society has paid Creative Response Concepts over $9 million since 2014.

Federalist Society Contracting Payments To Creative Response Concepts

Organization Amount Year
Creative Response Concepts $1,576,767.00 2020
Creative Response Concepts $1,636,482.00 2019
Creative Response Concepts $1,645,780.00 2018
Creative Response Concepts $1,539,499.00 2017
Creative Response Concepts $1,356,297.00 2015
Creative Response Concepts $1,329,457.00 2014
TOTAL $9,084,282.00

Eugene B. Meyer, President/Director & CEO

Eugene Meyer has served in a leadership role for the Federalist Society for over 30 years, and over that period he has overseen the organization’s vast expansion. 

C. Boyden Gray, Director

C. Boyden Gray is an attorney, lobbyist, and heir to a tobacco fortune through his grandfather Bowman Gray Sr., the president and chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Since 2017, Gray has been a director of America Engaged.

  • C. Boyden Gray formerly worked in the White House for 12 years, first as counsel to the vice president during the Reagan administration and then as counsel to President George H.W. Bush. Gray later served as U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. under the George W. Bush administration.

Gray has multiple connections to Charles and David Koch and their affiliated groups. Gray served as the co-chair and a board member for Citizens for a Sound Economy, an early Koch group focused on deregulation which would later split into Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity. As recently as 2013, he was a board member of FreedomWorks, where he exerted influence over the Tea Party Movement.

Gray was influential in the push for deregulation during the Reagan and Bush administrations. While working under Reagan, Gray wrote the original Executive Order 12291 (later re-numbered as EO 12866), requiring all government agency rules and regulations to undergo a cost-benefit analysis and White House review. Some progressives have denounced cost-benefit analysis as a weapon used by “small government ideologues and corporate interests” to stymie regulatory safeguards. An analysis from the Center for American Progress found that cost-benefit analysis is effectively used as “an excuse for slowing regulation under progressive administrations—an excuse that is quickly discarded when it conflicts with their deregulatory goals.” The order Gray authored has been “affirmed in one way or another by every president since.”

Gray has also worked as a staunch advocate for deregulation for climate and tobacco industry-funded groups such as the Alliance for Reasonable Regulation.

  • Gray also chaired the Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice of the American Bar Association.

During the last year of the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed Gray as Special Envoy for European Union Affairs and Eurasian Energy at the Mission of the United States to the European Union. 

Gray’s concern for proper “risk-versus-benefit” analysis stems from his involvement with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and the larger risk analysis field, which “is not broadly accepted as a science in itself.” As counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration, Gray worked on a presidential executive order aimed at “bringing more scientific rigor and political accountability to the process of health, safety, and environmental regulations.” Gray enlisted Harvard academic John D. Graham of the Harvard Group on Risk Management Reform to provide advice and counsel on the presidential order. While the political will for the order briefly subsided amidst the 1992 presidential campaign, momentum for deregulation remained and in 1994, Gray secured a grant from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to fund the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.

Gray also had an outsized influence in judicial nominations during both Bush administrations. During the George W. Bush administration, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) approached Gray to organize a team to lead upcoming judicial nomination fights. Gray subsequently assembled “the four horsemen,” which included himself, attorney Jay  Sekulow, former-Reagan attorney general Ed Meese, and then-Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society Leonard Leo. In 2002, Gray founded the Committee for Justice (CFJ), ostensibly to help push George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. CFJ is still active today and regularly files amicus briefs supporting conservative causes in Supreme Court cases, such as Sackett v. EPA, which threatens to significantly limit the EPA’s regulatory powers over water pollution. That case is scheduled for argument on October 3, 2022.

Edwin Meese III, Director

Edwin Meese III was the U.S. Attorney General during the Reagan administration. He has been affiliated with a number of conservative nonprofit groups, including Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and Capital Research Center. He was also the recipient of the Bradley Prize from the Bradley Foundation.

  • Meese is also recognized as a key figure in facilitating the conservative movement’s focus on the Supreme Court and judicial nominations. 

While working as chief of staff for then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan, Meese was instrumental in calling for a controversial crackdown on student protestors at the University of California, Berkeley that resulted in the death of one student. While serving as attorney general during Reagan’s presidency, Meese was investigated for his role in facilitating the construction of an Iraqi oil pipeline during the Iran-Iraq War. He was also a notable player in the Iran-Contra Scandal

  • Meese ultimately resigned as attorney general following an independent investigation into allegations that he improperly used his influence to help an ally receive government contracts. He also drew public ire for commenting that claims of child starvation in America were “purely political.”

The following list of individuals are also associated with the Federalist Society:

Federal Judges

John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice

Antonin Scalia, Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and original faculty advisor

Samuel Alito, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Clarence Thomas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Neil Gorsuch, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Thomas Griffith, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge

Neomi Rao, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge

Kyle Stuart Duncan, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge

Edith Brown Clement, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge

Alex Kozinski, Former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Robert Bork, Former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, former acting Attorney General, former Solicitor General, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Nominee, featured speaker at first Federalist Society Symposium in 1982

Kenneth Starr, Former President of Baylor University, former U.S. Appeals Court Judge, former U.S. Solicitor General, and independent counsel in the impeachment of Bill Clinton

Members Of Congress

Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader (R-KY) 

Josh Hawley, U.S. Senator (R-MO)

Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator (R-TX) 

Tom Cotton, U.S. Senator (R-AR) 

Todd Young, U.S. Senator (R-ID)

Ben Sasse, U.S. Senator (R-NE)

Mike Lee, U.S. Senator (R-UT) 

Orrin Hatch, Former Senate President Pro-Tempore, “critical role” player in the early Federalist Society days

David McIntosh, Federalist Society co-founder, current president of Club for Growth, former Republican Congressman (IN-02)

Executive Branch Members

John Ashcroft, Former U.S. Attorney General

Eugene Scalia, Former U.S. Secretary of Labor

Jeff Sessions, Former U.S. Attorney General and former U.S. Senator (R-AL)

John Yoo, Former official at the Department of Justice, professor of law at the University California Berkeley School of Law

Peter Keisler, Federalist Society co-founder, former acting U.S. Attorney General, and former U.S. Assistant Attorney General 

Theodore Olson, Former U.S. Solicitor General

Paul Clement, Former U.S. Solicitor General

Spencer Abraham, Former Secretary of Energy and former U.S. Senator (R-MI)

Gale Norton, Former U.S. Interior Secretary

Michael Chertoff, Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary

Philip Perry, Former general counsel to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and to the Department of Homeland Security

Alexander Acosta, Former U.S. Secretary of Labor and former U.S. Attorney

T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., Reagan advisor and former president of the Council for National Policy

Don McGahn, Former Trump White House counsel and Trump campaign counsel

State Officials

Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General

Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General

David Yost, Ohio Attorney General

Law Professors

Richard Epstein, Professor of law at New York University

William Baude, Professor of law at University of Chicago

Randy Barnett, Professor of law at Georgetown University

Steven Calabresi, Federalist Society co-founder, professor of law at Northwestern University

Lee Liberman, Federalist Society co-founder, Federalist Society vice president and Faculty Division Director, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University


John Eastman, Claremont Institute fellow and Trump ally

George Conway, Conservative political commentator

Ann Coulter, Conservative media personality

Miguel Estrada, Partner at Gibson Dunn

Robert P. George, Professor of politics at Princeton University


The Federalist Society played a major role in developing and advancing the originalist legal theory, “a designed approach of interpreting the Constitution very narrowly based on what the framers — all white, all men, all Christian — supposedly meant at the time they wrote it.” By building out and pushing this legal theory, the Federalist Society has given conservative judges the legal language and framework to strip federal regulations, roll back civil rights, and chip away at the separation of church and state. 

  • Legal scholars have pointed out that the originalist theory promoted and deployed by the late Justice Antonin Scalia was rife with contradictions. Scalia proclaimed to be “handcuffed” to the text of the Constitution, but his opinions consistently used “handpicked history” to find “in virtually every instance, exactly what he set[s] out to find.” Scalia consistently chose to side with powerful groups, such as corporations seeking to spend money to influence elections in Citizens United (2010), and white plaintiffs opposed to affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas (2016). In these cases and many others, originalism has been used by conservative Supreme Court justices as a “cover for opinions that were evidently partisan.”
  • In 2022, the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority deployed originalist arguments to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey—eliminating the constitutional right to have an abortion—and strike down gun regulations in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

Some of these positions contradict popular opinion, as seen by the public reaction to the court’s decision to strike down Roe and Casey. University of California law professor Mary Ziegler noted that “the Republican Party and the Federalist Society have created a parallel community with its own norms and sources of validation. The justices may not worry about losing legitimacy in one elite legal circle when they will be heroes in another.”

At the heart of the Federalist Society’s mode of influence is its profound ability to permeate the conservative elite — from pairing young legal professionals with Supreme Court clerkships, to hosting events featuring high-profile Republicans, to shaping the legal scholarship that federal judges use to write their opinions. By establishing itself as the predominant legal society for conservative and libertarian elites, the Federalist Society has made its membership the litmus test for conservative-minded individuals hoping to join the judiciary — all while claiming to take no positions on issues.

The Federalist Society’s strategy of amassing power by stacking the courts “represents something of a long-term strategy by the Republican Party.” Author and Constitutional law scholar Amanda Hollis-Brusky explained that, “By appointing judges who’ll narrowly interpret congressional regulations and statutes, you’re gambling that you won’t be in power politically but that your judges will be on the bench and take a more active role in shaping laws over the next 30 years.”


Decades of work aimed at installing right-wing judges on state and federal courts have earned the Federalist Society the title of the “conquerors of the courts.” For prospective judges, membership in the Federalist Society has “long been seen as a demonstration of ideological bona fides and a subscription to a package of ideas,” and there is evidence that judges who are Federalist Society members are significantly more conservative than Republican-nominated judges not involved with the society.

Politico described The Federalist Society’s events as forums for federal judges to “audition” for the Supreme Court, “with the goal of demonstrating they will not ‘drift’ to the left” like other Republican-nominated justices. In this way, the organization’s events are platforms for judges to “signal their fealty to the movement’s legal policy goals.” The Federalist Society also has a “disciplining effect” on active conservative judges, as they learn to adopt the group’s collective views on important legal decisions.

Supreme Court

Over the past four decades, the Federalist Society has dramatically increased its power over Supreme Court nominations, transforming from a relatively unknown student organization at the beginning of the Reagan administration to the “de facto selector of Republican Supreme Court justices” in 2022. 

In total, the Federalist Society has had ties to seven Supreme Court justices who were confirmed to the court: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society played significant roles in the judicial selection processes for all six of the sitting conservative justices.

Reagan Administration

While the Federalist Society was still in its nascent years during the Reagan administration, its reach and influence expanded greatly as it benefitted from the patronage of administration officials such as U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, who “helped groom and credential young conservative lawyers by giving key positions in the Justice Department to early leaders of the society.” By 1988, Ronald Reagan was attending and speaking at Federalist Society events.

Four of the five judges that Reagan nominated to the Supreme Court were confirmed. Two of his nominees, Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, were early members of the Federalist Society, though only Scalia ascended to the Supreme Court (Bork’s nomination failed in what is now regarded as a pivotal moment in American politics). Both Bork and Scalia spoke at the first Federalist Society symposium in 1982. Before nominating Bork, Reagan had also considered nominating another Federalist Society affiliate, then-Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Notably, two of Reagan’s Supreme Court justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, shifted to the center of the ideological spectrum as their terms proceeded. Academics Neal Devins and Lawrence Baum note in a 2019 book on the Supreme Court that “ideology was not the only criterion” for nominees in Reagan’s first term; in the case of Sandra Day O’Connor, Reagan was fulfilling a campaign promise to nominate a woman to the court. The lack of an ideological “test” for Reagan’s nominees — who often sided with justices appointed by Democrats — resulted in backlash from conservatives who were angered that the Republican-appointed justices were seemingly veering away from the party. This set the stage for the Federalist Society to eventually make “staunch rightist views and allegiance a litmus test for any prospective Court appointment” during future administrations. 

George H.W. Bush Administration

Federalist Society Co-Founder Lee Leiberman Otis, a former law clerk to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, served as associate counsel to President George H.W. Bush. Another Federalist Society affiliate, C. Boyden Gray, also served as a White House counsel.

Seeking to avoid the dissonance caused by the Bork nomination, Bush nominated David Souter to replace the retiring William J. Brennan Jr. The White House pushed the narrative that Souter was “no Bork,” and Bush himself said that he did not use ”the litmus test approach” nor did he “quiz Souter on his views on abortion affirmative action or other matters that will shape the future of the court,” saying he had “too much respect for the Supreme Court for that.” Other accounts point to Bush’s disinterest in the judiciary. Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Nine notes that George H.W. Bush’s “heart was never in the cause” of the conservative legal project and that Bush was “preoccupied with the sudden fall of Communism and had no stomach for a fight in the Democratic Senate over a Supreme Court nominee.”

Souter’s nomination did not quell the concerns of conservatives in the moment, despite assurances from White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu at the time that Souter was sufficiently conservative. The president of the Family Research Council said conservatives felt ”a little bit of unease” about the nomination after Souter said his mind was open on abortion during his hearing. Souter’s approach as a justice was more independent than the ideologically-driven judicial philosophy that conservatives had wanted. This became a major point of contention when Souter voted to uphold Roe v. Wade in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. By 1995, a conservative magazine had labeled Souter as “one of the staunchest liberals on the court—a more reliable champion of liberal causes than Clinton appointees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.” This shift, along with similar ideological drifts from Reagan Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, produced conservative rallying calls of “No More Souters” and subsequently a call to action for the Federalist Society to take more control of judicial nominations. John H. Sununu, who pushed heavily for Souter’s nomination, said Souter “seemed to have felt a commitment to his conservative philosophy for about six months, and then just fell off a cliff into the dark side of liberalism.”

David Souter was the last Republican Supreme Court nominee to not be connected to the Federalist Society, as George H.W. Bush’s next and final Supreme Court nominee was Clarence Thomas – whom Federalist Society members have called “the closest thing to a pure Federalist Society judge.” Leo even delayed his start at the Federalist Society during this time to help Thomas through his contentious confirmation process for the Supreme Court. To this day, Thomas is deeply connected to Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, and regularly speaks at their events

  • Thomas helped deliver the Federalist Society and Leo a huge win in 2022, when he and other Federalist Society-connected justices voted to revoke the constitutional right to have an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson. Thomas’ concurring opinion, in that case, implied that he would try to push the conservative agenda even further, saying that the court “should reconsider” its past rulings establishing the rights to contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage.

In response to Anita Hill’s sexual assault allegations against Clarence Thomas, the Bradley Foundation provided a grant to support David Brock’s 1992 book The Real Anita Hill, which was “designed to “ruin” Hill’s reputation and remove lingering doubts about Thomas’ fitness for the Supreme Court.” Brock later recanted the book’s claims, admitting that right-wing activists encouraged him to lie and sling “virtually every derogatory—and often contradictory—allegation [he] had collected on Hill.”

Clinton Administration

The Federalist Society played a major role in Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In 1994, Attorney General Rober Fiske Jr. opened an independent investigation into financial irregularities involving a land deal involving President Clinton. Ken Starr, a Federalist Society member, was appointed to run this investigation less than a year into its creation. According to the LA Times, Starr was investigating “hazy allegations.”

When Starr’s investigations failed to produce anything meaningful, he switched course to investigate Bill Clinton’s affair with his intern Monica Lewinsky. Future Supreme Court Justice and Federalist Society member Brett Kavanaugh was a part of the investigation into Clinton and Lewinsky. Starr pressed the case for impeachment of Clinton before Congress, but ultimately failed to win a conviction. 

Federalist Society lawyers also played a key role in the 2000 election. According to Slate, society lawyers flew to Florida to “make certain” that ballots were counted in favor of George W. Bush in Florida. The New York Times similarly reported that Federalist Society members “played prominent roles” in the 2000 election that led to the election of George W. Bush. The league of lawyers formed what is known as the “Brooks Brothers riot,” which has been seen as a precursor to 2020 election challenges. 

George W. Bush Administration

The Federalist Society exerted significant influence on both of George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominations. John Roberts and Samuel Alito both have “significant ties to the society,” although John Roberts was directly listed as a Federalist Society member in 1997-98. When this was publicly reported, the Federalist Society publicly demanded a retraction because they claimed Roberts didn’t officially pay membership dues. This reflected the public stance of the society at the time, as it was fending off criticisms that they had undue influence on the George W. Bush administration. During the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, the Federalist Society hired CRC Advisors to give its members media training and then placed the members on TV to advocate for Roberts.

When Bush tried to nominate Harriet Miers in the same year, she faced significant opposition from the “more vocal Federalist Society types.” Though Miers’ nomination received public support from Leonard Leo, others in the society attacked Miers through op-eds on multiple grounds, “including her lack of ties to the Federalist Society.” Miers eventually withdrew her nomination and Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a “Federalist Society mainstay type” who worked in the Reagan Justice Department with many of the Federalist Society founders.

Leonard Leo was heavily involved in both nominations, and likened the process to a political campaign where he and his team identified “senators who were on the fence, and generated calls, letters, and e-mails from constituents to support each nominee.”

Trump Administration

In early 2016, top Trump campaign lawyer and Federalist Society member Don McGahn came up with the idea to release a list of prospective Supreme Court nominees to fill Scalia’s still-vacant seat. According to the Chicago Tribune, the list was a strategy to “reassure the GOP base” of his commitment to the party. CNN called the list “unorthodox” and noted that both the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society played a role in its creation. The Tribune said Leonard Leo was “​​at McGahn’s side throughout the process.” Trump told right-wing outlet Breitbart a month after the release of the list that “we’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society.”

The original list, released in May 2016, consisted of the following names–all of whom are affiliated with the Federalist Society: 

A name notably absent from this original list is Neil Gorsuch – Trump’s eventual pick to fill Scalia’s seat. As David Kaplan reports in The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court’s Assault on the Constitution, Gorsuch worked his way onto Trump’s, Leo’s, and McGahn’s radar by writing a key lower court ruling that severely undercut the ability of the federal agencies to create binding regulations – a key goal of the Federalist Society. Gorsuch’s opinion, according to Kaplan, was “a way for Gorsuch to call attention to himself, and it worked.” By September 2016, Trump released an updated list that included Gorsuch.

According to The New Yorker, Leonard Leo “acted as the unofficial mayor” of the Senate during Gorsuch’s confirmation. Leo repeatedly stressed that ushering through Supreme Court nominees was analogous to a political campaign, and the Federalist Society’s campaigns were bolstered by one of his other groups, Judicial Crisis Network

Shortly after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch took a “victory lap” at a Society dinner. According to Politico, “​​Gorsuch vowed to continue to expound the group’s favored judicial philosophies from his new post.” 

After Gorsuch’s nomination, the Trump White House issued an updated list of prospective Supreme Court nominees. Two key names on this list were Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh was a longtime Federalist Society member and ally of Leo from their time together in the George W. Bush administration, where they played key roles in the administration’s judicial selection process. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said that “when Brett Kavanaugh’s clerks were trying to make sure he got on Donald Trump’s list to be on the Supreme Court, they made a pilgrimage to the Federalist Society to see Leonard Leo … to kiss the ring.”

Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2018 after Justice Kennedy retired. Kavanaugh’s nomination quickly became controversial due to credible allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him. Leo used his network of nonprofits to send $4 million to Independent Women’s Voice, who attacked the allegations against Kavanaugh. Judicial Crisis Network’s president, Carrie Severino, also strongly criticized the allegations against Kavanaugh. In 2019, after Kavanaugh’s narrow confirmation, he was the keynote speaker at the Federalist Society’s annual black-tie dinner and received a “hero’s welcome.”

Trump would release another addition to this list in September 2020 and pressured Joe Biden to release a list of his own. The list was released less than two weeks before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two prospective nominees emerged in the mad dash to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the 2020 election: Amy Coney Barret and Barbara Lagoa, both of whom are Federalist Society members. 

Politico claimed that Barrett was “groomed” as a potential Supreme Court justice by Federalist Society members when she was studying law at Notre Dame. According to a former member of Notre Dame Law School, the faculty who scouted Barrett’s potential “were trying to create a certain phalanx of people mainly to overturn Roe, but also to prioritize religion.”

With Barrett’s nomination, the majority of Supreme Court justices were tied to the Federalist Society and were at least partially a product of the advocacy of Leonard Leo.

Lower Federal Courts

Federalist Society co-founder David McIntosh explained that the society’s mission is carried out in “untold ways” across “thousands of decisions at various levels of government and the community outside of government.” The Federalist Society network became a key player in the federal judicial selection process during the Reagan administration, and continues to exert considerable and politically consequential influence on the federal judiciary outside of the Supreme Court.

At a 2018 Federalist Society gala, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised the organization for its role in “transforming the judiciary for as long into the future as we can.” In 2019, McConnell announced he would focus the Senate’s work on judicial confirmations shortly after receiving over $250,000 from Federalist Society board member and “leading voice on judicial appointments” C. Boyden Gray.

Prevalence in Federal Judiciary

The Federalist Society acts as a stable for Republican presidential administrations, cultivating a farm of conservative judges who have been vetted as ideologically aligned. The organization had not yet fully developed its roster during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, but by the time George W. Bush took office, the society could “select, vet, and shepherd Bush’s judicial nominees.” The group’s influence continued into the Trump administration, with Trump himself disclosing to the right-wing outlet Breitbart in 2016, “we’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society.”

  • Ronald Reagan appointed all of the Federalist Society’s original faculty advisors at Yale to federal judgeships. Two of them, Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork, were later nominated to the Supreme Court.
  • Nine of George H.W. Bush’s federal court of appeals and Supreme Court nominees were Federalist Society members. His administration turned over the responsibility of judicial selection to a founding member of the Federalist Society, Lee Liberman Otis.

Affiliation with the Federalist Society is also an asset for a prospective federal judge’s confirmation process. A 2022 study at the University of Albany found that since the Senate reduced the threshold for confirming federal judicial nominees to a simple majority, a circuit court nominee’s affiliation with the Federalist Society increased their chances of confirmation by 20%. 

Politicization of Federal Courts

A 2008 study found that lower-level federal court nominations have become increasingly politicized since the 1980s, coinciding with the rise of the Federalist Society. The study claims that “there is little evidence that the Senate independently considers a lower court nominee’s ideology in the absence of interest group opposition.” The study also found that conservative interest groups wielded more influence than liberal groups on the confirmation process for federal judges.

Conservatism of Federalist Society Judges

A 2009 study found that the appeals court judges who were affiliated with the Federalist Society were “significantly more conservative than nonmembers,” even in comparison to other judges appointed by Republicans. Appeals courts are “frequently the last stop for critical cases on constitutional rights” and “serve as a kind of apprenticeship for future Supreme Court nominees,” according to People for the American Way. The New York Times said that “nearly all federal litigation ends” at the circuit court level. 

The 2009 study found that Federalist Society members were more likely to rule against defendants who brought forth Fourth Amendment claims, and more likely to rule that Congressional action overstepped state’s rights as enumerated in the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments. 

Pushback Against Nonpartisan Checks on Federal Judiciary

The Federalist Society has used its considerable influence to successfully undermine nonpartisan efforts to monitor and strengthen the federal judiciary:

  • The Federalist Society pushed the George W. Bush administration to prevent the nonpartisan American Bar Association from vetting the president’s federal judicial nominees. Bush was the first president to push back against this practice since Eisenhower. Donald Trump similarly eschewed the role of the ABA in his judicial selection process. The Trump administration drew considerable criticism for nominating judges rated “not qualified” by the ABA. According to Ballotpedia, Trump and George W. Bush nominated 18 of the 22 judicial candidates deemed “not qualified” since 1989; eleven of the 18 judges were confirmed.
  • In 2020, the United States Judicial Conference proposed that federal judges should not be allowed to be members of the Federalist Society or the American Constitution Society, the Federalist Society’s liberal counterpart. This proposed measure was meant to reduce the appearance of the politicization of the courts. The proposal was scrapped after widespread pushback from conservatives. The Federalist Society’s response included a letter from 200 federal judges, a series of articles in conservative publications, and disparaging remarks by Federalist Society members and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Responses to Criticism

The George W. Bush administration heavily sourced its judicial nominations, cabinet members, and advisors from the Federalist Society. When met with criticism for potential undue influence, the Federalist Society members “repeatedly claimed to know little about the group’s beliefs.”

After Trump was elected in 2016, his top campaign lawyer, Don McGahn, spoke at a Federalist Society gathering and “declared that Trump’s judicial picks would adhere to the group’s philosophy.” In response to criticism that Trump had outsourced his judicial selection process to the Federalist Society, McGahn said, “I’ve been a member of the Federalist Society since law school — still am. So frankly, it seems like it’s been in-sourced.” At a 2018 Federalist Society gala, late-Senator Orrin Hatch said to the crowd, “some have accused President Trump of outsourcing his judicial selection process to the Federalist Society. I say, ‘Damn right!’

State Courts

The Federalist Society’s influence runs deep in the state and municipal court systems. In 2019, the majority of justices on eight state supreme courts were Federalist Society members: Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas. 


Two years into his term as Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis had seated three judges affiliated with the Federalist Society on the state supreme court, all of whom were interviewed by Leonard Leo before they were nominated. DeSantis seated a fourth justice affiliated with the Federalist Society in 2022. Additionally, in less than three years, DeSantis seated three right-wing judges on Florida’s First Court Of Appeal, which hears disputes involving the state government. 

Constitutional law professor Bob Jarvis Nova Southeastern University said DeSantis created “the most conservative Florida Supreme Court that we’ve had in decades. There is no judicial independence.”

The Federalist Society-affiliated judges that DeSantis stacked onto Florida’s supreme court have: 

  • Ruled that a unanimous jury is not required for sentencing a person to the death penalty.
  • Prevented a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban assault weapons from appearing on the ballot.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appointed three state supreme court justices who were Federalist Society members. Walker also appointed Federalist Society members to appeals courts and circuit court judgeships. Two of his Supreme Court nominees were particularly controversial: Justice Rebecca Bradley called individuals afflicted with AIDS “degenerates” and used a homophobic slur in columns she wrote in college. Justice Dan Kelly attacked same-sex marriage and compared affirmation action to slavery in a book he wrote. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld some of Walker’s controversial agenda items

One of the Federalist Society affiliates on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is Brian Hagedorn. While serving as an appeals court judge in 2018, Hagedorn drew controversy for sending an email to judges around the state encouraging them to attend a Federalist Society conference. Hagedorn claimed the state would reimburse their travel and meal costs to the conference, and offered legal education credits to lawyers who attended. Fifteen Wisconsin judges wrote a letter in protest, pointing out that the event’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, was in the midst of his re-election campaign

In recent years, the Federalist Society-affiliated justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have further entrenched conservative power in the state:

  • The court ruled to limit the power of lower courts to block laws deemed unconstitutional.
  • The Republican-held state senate refused to seat Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ appointee to the state Natural Resources Board, allowing a Republican who refused to step down to hold the seat. The court ruled that this was legal, allowing Republicans to effectively refuse to turn over key government offices.
  • The court overruled a budget rewritten by Gov. Evers, overturning decades of precedent allowing governors to rewrite budgets and other legislative items via partial vetoes. The move was seen as further weakening the power of the Democratic governor.

Texas Supreme Court Justice and Federalist Society member Brett Busby was first appointed to the supreme court by Gov. Greg Abbott shortly after he lost his re-election bid to a Houston appeals court in 2018. Busby’s loss was a part of a clean Democrat sweep in Houston in 2018, and His appointment to the state supreme court was part of a larger campaign led by Abbott to stack the state judiciary with conservative judges who lost elections to Democratic candidates. 

At a Federalist Society meeting following Democratic judges’ victories in Houston, a prominent law professor argued against merit-based judicial selections for Texas judges, claiming it would lead to liberal bias. Shortly thereafter, Abbott moved to end judicial elections and replace them with gubernatorial appointments. 

A major GOP donor conducted an independent analysis in 2020 and concluded that big law firms that “politically support” Texas Supreme Court justices “get the best results.” 

Since 2016, the Texas Supreme Court justices who are affiliated with the Federalist Society have made a slew of decisions entrenching conservative power by: 

  • Upholding a six-week abortion ban that would provide financial rewards to private citizens who reported illegal abortions.
  • Denying two million Houston-area voters—a population that primarily votes for Democrats — access to mail-in ballots during the 2020 election. The court also ruled that counties could only provide one absentee drop box, severely impacting the voting accessibility of high-density areas like Houston and Austin.

After the Arizona Legislature expanded the state supreme court — which at least one legislator said was politically motivated by Republicans — Gov. Doug Ducey quickly nominated a local Federalist Society chapter leader to the high court. Ducey also effectively stacked the state’s judicial nominating commission by refusing to fill vacancies after the commission rejected one of his Supreme Court nominees. 

Ducey spoke at a Federalist Society event in 2019, where he said that the group “has now fixed the judicial branch.” Ducey’s Federalist Society-dominated court has assisted in consolidating conservative power in the state by:

  • Blocking any efforts to overturn tax cuts via state referendums.

As of 2022, three of Ohio’s four state supreme court justices have “deep” ties to the Federalist Society. Two of those justices, Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer, are running for re-election in 2022. Justice Sharon Kennedy, who is running for the chief justice seat, is also open about her frequent participation in Federalist Society events.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is also a proud Federalist Society member. Yost is known for his anti-abortion activism, pushing through a restrictive state-level abortion ban after Roe v. Wade was struck down. He also questioned the veracity of a story of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped and forced to travel across state lines to obtain an abortion. The story was true, and Yost faced calls to resign.


In 2001, when a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court justices were Federalist Society members, the court ruled against private citizens and in favor of insurance companies and corporations 19 out of 20 times. In the previous term, when the majority of justices were not Federalist Society members, private citizens won 22 of 45 such cases.

From 2018 to 2020, Federalist Society members made up a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court. In 2020, Michigan Supreme Court Justice and early Federalist Society leader Stephen Markman wrote a decision that struck down the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols

The Democrats retook the majority on the court in 2021

The Federalist Society’s success and influence are largely owed to its vast network of conservative and libertarian lawyers, law students, judges, government officials, and other conservative activists. Over the past four decades, the organization has grown to be one of the largest and most influential conservative groups in the country, touting over 70,000 legal professionals

Individuals often move through various levels of the Federalist Society network; a common trajectory for a member starts at one of the organization’s law school chapters, and from there, graduate into a Federalist Society lawyers chapter or “practice group.”

Federalist Society members, “bound together and shaped by a set of beliefs about law, the nature of government, and constitutional interpretation,” are brought together at conferences, symposiums, and debates, where they are able to share ideas and build relationships with generally like-minded people. In this way, individuals affiliated with the Federalist Society act as “cognitive baggage handlers” who carry these shared ideas into their legal or academic careers. Membership with the Federalist Society ultimately offers the opportunity to “change law, public policy, and the judiciary.


Student Division

The Federalist Society calls its student division “the cornerstone of the society’s efforts” and claims to maintain chapters “at nearly every ABA-accredited law school in the country.” In its 2021 annual report, the organization reported having over 200 active chapters at law schools.

  • In addition to formal symposiums and conferences, Federalist Society campus chapters engage students in “dialogue” about conservative legal topics through more casual events like “study breaks” and happy hours.

The Federalist Society’s activism on college campuses goes far beyond its student chapters and clerkship support. In 2017, the college activist group UnKoch My Campus released more than 700 pages of emails and other documents showing communication and coordination between Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, and the Antonin Scalia Law School (ASLS) at George Mason University — a publicly-funded institution. 

  • After Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, ASLS Dean Henry Butler sent an email to Leonard Leo requesting his help in recruiting Scalia’s former clerks to work at the university. Butler’s email to Leo had the subject line “Scalia Clerks” and said, “We should hire a couple of his [Scalia’s] former clerks. Jonathan Mitchell is an obvious target. Any women in the potential pool?”
  • In May 2017, an ASLS administrator sent an email thanking a Federalist Society employee for offering his help to another university administrator, who was tasked with “keeping track of nominations, confirmations, and recruitment of judges” for the school’s programs:

Thanks for your time today. I’m checking those dates in May and will be back to you soon. In the meantime, I wanted to introduce you to Ryan Lodata, who will be the LEC’s Outreach Coordinator for the Federal Judge’s Initiative and Attorneys General Initiative. So Ryan will be the one keeping track of nominations, confirmations, and recruitment of judges for our programs. He may be in touch with you from time-to-time to compare notes and the like. Thanks for your offer to help us out with these projects. I look forward to working together.

  • In June 2017 — a year after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and five months after President Trump took office — an associate professor at ASLS sent an email introducing a Federalist Society employee to the law school’s clerkship program director. The email shows undeniable coordination between the Federalist Society and GMU’s law school to place Federalist Society student members and other conservative and libertarian alums in clerkships with federal judges appointed by the new Trump administration:

We are hoping to place Scalia Law Alumni who are current members of our Fed Soc student chapter, alumni who were active in Fed Soc, and other Scalia Law conservative and libertarian alums in federal clerkships. We wonder if there may be an opportunity to get such candidates in front of judges incoming under the new administration as they seek clerks under atypical timeframes. 

Faculty Division

Another core tenet of the Federalist Society’s network is its faculty program.

  • Contrary to The Federalist Society’s claims of fostering “intellectual diversity” among faculty, the program’s purported mission appears to serve the political purpose of “identify[ing] and support[ing] aspiring conservative and libertarian law professors” and “facilitat[ing] dialogue among law professors interested in limited government, the separation of powers, Constitutional theory, the original understanding of the Constitution, and the importance of property rights and free markets.”


The organization’s presence on law school campuses has often been described as a “pipeline” to senior jobs in government, academia, law firms, and federal judgeships. Law students who become members of The Federalist Society gain access to “prestigious professional advantages that only the society can offer them.” The New Yorker described the Federalist Society as “a kind of Rolodex for legal jobs,” particularly clerkships for law students who have just graduated.

  • Through its abundant network of professionals in the legal field, The Federalist Society helps students “get a leg up in landing competitive clerkships with conservative judges” and even places first-year law students in prestigious clerkships. Many students go on to clerk with Supreme Court justices, granting young and conservative-minded people access to the most powerful legal decision-makers in the country.
  • Some conservative judges have revealed that they prefer to hire students affiliated with The Federalist Society as their clerks. The Nation reported that one federal court of appeals judge expressed that he “hires only students with membership in the Federalist Society or comparable credentials on their resumes.” Another federal court of appeals judge, who screened clerkship applications for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, admitted that he favored students who listed the Federalist Society on their resumes. The judge said that belonging to the Federalist Society “tells me you’re of a particular philosophy, and I tend to give an edge to people I agree with philosophically.”

In addition to its monumental role in helping students land coveted clerkships, the organization also holds enough sway in the judiciary that one federal judge suggested disqualifying students who spoke out against the organization from being placed into clerkships. 

  • In 2022, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman sent an email to other federal judges across the country, urging them to consider disqualifying Yale Law School students who protested an event hosted by the Federalist Society.
  • Yale students and faculty protested the event in support of the LGBTQ community, as the event speaker was the defense lawyer for the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in the 2018 Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Silberman said that all federal judges “should carefully consider whether any such student so identified should be disqualified for potential clerkships.”

Shaping Legal Analysis

Beyond its influence on the makeup of the judiciary itself, the Federalist Society has played a profound role in shaping and promoting the legal theories and methods widely used by conservative judges today. The Washington Post said that much of the group’s influence “comes not from its very public Washington victories but from its behind-the-scenes, grassroots ability to shift the law at the idea level, even the cultural level.” 

The Federalist Society claims that it “does not lobby for or endorse particular legislation, policies, or political candidates of either major party,” and is merely “about ideas.” However, “ideas need agents or networks of actors to transmit them” into legal action, and the Federalist Society fills this void. Through its campus events and programs for practicing lawyers, the group is “credited with popularizing methods of legal analysis now widely advocated by many conservatives and employed by an increasing number of judges.” 

In her 2015 book, Ideas With Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution, Amanda Hollis-Brusky analyzed the Federalist Society’s impacts on recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance, gun control, and state sovereignty. 

  • Hollis-Brusky found that “as many as two dozen people with Federalist Society connections played some role in crafting the arguments, arguing the cases, clerking for the judges or issuing the rulings.”
  • Her book shows how members of the Federalist Society “participated in litigation to revitalize the Second and Tenth Amendments, establish broad rights of corporations under the First Amendment, and limit Congressional power to regulate state governments.”


Although the Federalist Society claims to not take an ideological or political stance on abortion, the group’s actions, leadership, and members make it clear that the organization overwhelmingly supports restricting access to abortion. 

Many Federalist Society members, including former vice president and current co-chair Leonard Leo, have expressed their opposition to abortion on moral grounds.

  • Leonard Leo once called abortion “an act of force” and “a threat to human life,” and has argued that the “vast majority of abortions are a consequence of voluntary, consensual sexual encounters.” One conservative legal activist hailed Leo for his commitment to overturning Roe: “No one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo.”

A year from now, there will be infants going from milk to soft foods because Dobbs triggered laws and shuttered clinics on Friday and not Monday. Now gestating, they’ll learn to walk, catch fireflies, fall in love, comb gray hair, because of appointments canceled last Friday. Not just by good fortune but—for the first time in generations—by legal right.

For years, Federalist Society members questioned the legality of Roe, usually by casting doubt on whether the Constitution grants a right to privacy. The organization has hosted dozens of events “debating” the legality of abortion, featuring prominent anti-abortion activists

It is no coincidence that all six sitting conservative Supreme Court Justices who voted to remove the constitutional right to have an abortion have ties to the Federalist Society. 

  • Four months later—one month before he won the November 2020 election—Trump made another promise that Roe v. Wade would be overturned because he would put “pro-life justices on the court.”


The overall anti-abortion sentiment of the Federalist Society culminated in June 2022, when the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority overturned Roe v. Wade. In July 2022, the New Yorker reported that Federalist Society members played a major role in shaping the legislation and litigation strategy that paved the way for the Supreme Court to strike down Roe

  • In an effort led by two lawyers belonging to the Federalist Society, the Christian legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) “helped Mississippi legislators draft the fifteen-week abortion ban that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court,” and then “served alongside Mississippi’s legal team as it presented its arguments to the Court.”
  • According to Kristen Waggoner, ADF’s general counsel and a member of the Federalist Society, the firm “closely monitored the scholarship on abortion while shaping Mississippi’s litigation strategy,” which was led by Scott Stewart, another Federalist Society member, and Mississippi’s solicitor general.

Citizens United

Legal professionals connected through the Federalist Society helped “build the legal scaffolding” for the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United in 2010—the game-changing decision that opened the floodgates for wealthy donors and special interests to spend unlimited amounts of untraceable money to influence elections.

  • According to Amanda Hollis-Brusky, lawyers connected through the Federalist Society “nurtured and developed” the critical “corporations are people” framework used in Citizens United through their academic work, at events, and in their legal briefs.


Affordable Care Act

The Federalist Society has been called the “incubator” of the Supreme Court suits that tried, unsuccessfully, to gut the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post detailed how Randy Barnett, who was at the time a leading voice of the Federalist Society’s libertarian wing, became “one of the architects of constitutional claims at the core of lawsuits against the health-care plan.”

  • The legal strategy for challenging the ACA was devised at the Federalist Society’s national convention in the fall of 2009, where Barnett bumped into other attendees who were discussing the legislation.
  • Barnett acknowledges how the Federalist Society — by providing a space and setting for like-minded legal scholars and lawyers to meet — played a key role in bringing the legal challenge to life: “This is how the Federalist Society influences things. It’s not the dark-money cabal… By having free and fair discussion, it involves people, gets them interested, and they often will do something about that.”
  • The Post used the example of Barnett and the ACA to summarize the Federalist Society’s “true source of power”:

No one at Federalist Society headquarters in Washington dictated Barnett’s moves or told him how to advocate for what positions. It’s just that at a few gatherings made possible by the Federalist Society that Barnett happened to attend, synapses fired, a corner of the hive mind engaged, and Barnett took it from there. Multiply that chemistry tens of thousands of times over the past 36 years and you have the Federalist Society’s true source of power.

Thwarting Federal Regulatory Powers

Federalist Society conferences commonly feature panels and speakers fear-mongering about “systematic regulatory overreach,” and proposals that would restrict or abolish the power of federal agencies to regulate. 

Gun Regulation 

In Ideas With Consequences, Amanda Hollis-Brusky documents the Federalist Society’s influence on multiple Second Amendment cases, including the group’s connections to the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller (2008).

  • Four of the five Supreme Court justices who relied on the academics’ scholarship in their majority opinion were also Federalist Society members, as were the two D.C. Circuit judges who decided the case at the circuit court level.
  • Additionally, Heller was “constructed and financed by frequent Federalist Society participant Robert A. Levy.”

Advising State Legislatures

In 2021, the Federalist Society began working with state legislatures in Nebraska and North Carolina. The organization’s Article I Initiative partnered with the Levin Center to “provide nonpartisan oversight programming to state legislators” with the goal of “examining the best legislative oversight practices.” The Federalist Society said in its 2021 annual report that its efforts were “well received by state officials,” and the group plans to “dramatically expand the number of these state legislature events.”

Role in Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol

Individuals in the Federalist Society network were instrumental in the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021.

  • Lawyers involved with the society’s Pittsburgh chapter, also supported legal challenges to the 2020 election results.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) both voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election following the Capitol riot. Cruz and Hawley were involved with their law schools’ Federalist Society student chapters, and have since spoken at numerous Federalist Society events. At a 2012 Federalist Society event, Cruz said he “grew up with the Federalist Society,” calling it his “home” for his entire adult and professional life.

John Eastman

John Eastman is a notable Federalist Society member and serves as chair of the organization’s Federalism & Separation of Powers Practice Group. Eastman also serves as a senior fellow and board member at the Claremont Institute. Eastman also played a key role in the legal attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

  • Eastman spoke at the Jan. 6 rally preceding the violent attack on the Capitol, claiming that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Jonathan R. Bunch

Jonathan Bunch is a former senior vice president at the Federalist Society who has been described as Leo’s “right-hand man.” Bunch has been involved in several Leo-linked entities and is currently the president of CRC Advisors, a public relations consulting firm Leo founded in 2020.

  • The Rule of Law Trust, another Leo-linked group, paid Bunch $1.5 million in consulting fees in 2018 —- RLT’s largest single payment that year.

From 2007 to 2008, Jonathan Bunch was the executive director of “Better Courts for Missouri,” a nonprofit organization that aimed to fundamentally alter the state’s merit-based judicial nomination process

  • Better Courts sought to replace Missouri’s selection method for state appeals courts judges — called the Missouri Plan — where the governor appointed a nominee from a list curated by special judicial nominating committees. JCN proposed an inherently partisan system that would give the governor power to nominate any individual to the commission, subject to Senate confirmation. The group also spearheaded a ballot measure to allow the governor to appoint a majority of the commission’s members.
  • The Missouri Bar Association and the judiciary overwhelmingly supported keeping the state’s existing judicial selection system, contending that “the process diminishes the politics behind selections.”
  • Critics of Bunch’s group called their proposal “a GOP power grab,” to give the governor more power as “the state is getting redder and redder.” The president of the Missouri Bar said Better Courts’ proposal would “make partisan politics the heart and soul” of selecting judges.

Better Courts’ strategy reflects the Leo network’s typical playbook at the state level. In Iowa, Judicial Crisis Network financed a 2018 campaign that advocated for giving partisan legislators the power to select members of the judicial nomination commission, “meaning politicians will choose every member.” 

  • Iowa’s existing system — where half of the commissioners were selected by the governor and half were elected by licensed lawyers — was meant to “emphasize legal experience while keeping politics at arm’s length.”

American Juris Link

American Juris Link is a conservative legal group founded by Director of the Federalist Society’s Pro-Bono Center, Carrie Ann Donell. American Juris Link has led the legal charge against COVID-19 safety measures, assisting other groups and individuals file lawsuits to challenge them. It has also assisted in anti-union litigation.

American Juris Link is closely tied to the State Policy Network, a nonprofit organization that runs a coordinated network of conservative think tanks, consisting of over 160 organizations operating in all 50 states.

Conservative organizations and individuals have provided the Federalist Society with steady financial support since its founding. As the Washington Post put it, “while the Federalist Society may never take an official position on anything, conservative funders know who their friends are.” 

The Federalist Society received $19.1 million in grants and contributions between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021, according to the group’s 2021 annual report. Conservative megadonors Thomas W. Smith and Ken Griffin each gave at least $100,000 in 2021, as did multi-billion dollar companies including Google, Oracle, and Koch Industries. In 2021, the organization received at least $100,000 each from major conservative donor groups including:

  • The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • The Dunn Foundation
  • Searle Freedom Trust
  • Donors Trust
  • The Charles Koch Institute
  • The Marcus Foundation
  • The Sarah Scaife Foundation
  • The John Templeton Foundation
  • The Ed Uihlein Family Foundation

The Lynde and Harry Bradley, Sarah Scaife, and John M. Olin Foundations have been major financial backers of the Federalist Society for decades. Between 2005 and 2016, the Bradley Foundation gave $4.8 million to the society. 

The group’s tax records and annual reports from recent years also show that the organization has received substantial funding from Koch Industries, the Mercer Family Foundation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, The Federalist Society received more than $300,000 from organizations tied to Charles and David Koch

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