The Federalist Society is an educational organization for more than 75,000 mostly conservative and libertarian lawyers and law students. It is active at more than 200 law schools and hosts more than 1000 events each year. Membership in the Society and attendance at its events is open to anyone (including media) wishing to explore what the organization defines as the principles of “individual freedom” and “limited government embodied in our Constitution.” The Society does not file friend-of-the-court briefs, lobby, promote legislation, promote policy proposals or endorse candidates for office. 
The Federalist Society has been an influential source of federal court nominees, cabinet appointments and legal assistance for Republican presidents since its founding during the Reagan administration.  Several U.S. Supreme Court Justices and nominees appointed by Republican presidents have been affiliated with the Federalist Society, including Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Another major source of the Federalist Society’s influence, what a 2019 Washington Post Magazine profile defined as the organization’s “true source of power,” is the networking and idea-sharing that occurs at its events. Speakers and attendees regularly include federal judges, national political figures and attorneys affiliated with the Society, as well as prominent outside experts, including those who strongly disagree with the Federalist Society’s limited-government perspective. The organization claims a “strong reputation for hosting speakers on all sides of the ideological spectrum.” Nadine Strossen, the former national president of the American Civil Liberties Union, has participated in more than a dozen Federalist Society events since 2018. W. Neil Eggleston, a former White House Counsel to President Barack Obama, was a speaker for at least five Society events after leaving the Obama administration in January 2017. Representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the AFL-CIO, and the Constitutional Accountability Center are examples of other left-leaning organizations that have repeatedly sent speakers to address Federalist Society events.
Some left-of-center organizations and political figures have criticized the Federalist Society’s success, most prominently U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Demand Justice, a left-of-center advocacy group associated with the Arabella Advisors network of liberal “dark money” that supports the appointment of liberal judicial nominees and opposes right-of-center nominees. 
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy (Federalist Society) is a 501(c)(3) educational organization for mostly conservative and libertarian lawyers and law students. It was founded in 1982 and is organized into three branches: a Student Division (more than 10,000 students studying at more than 200 U.S. law schools), a Lawyers’ Division (more than 65,000 lawyers and chapters in 90 U.S. cities), and a Faculty Division (for law professors). During the academic year that ended in 2018, the Federalist Society offered more than 1,100 law school events.
The Society is ideologically focused on what it refers to as the principles of “individual freedom” and “limited government embodied in our Constitution.” The organization and its events are open to everyone interested in exploring and debating these issues, regardless of ideological or legal perspective. The Federalist Society does not take positions on behalf of its members and “does not participate in activism of any kind,” a prohibition that it specifically defines as not lobbying nor promoting legislation, policy proposals, or candidates for office.
Membership is open to “anyone who wishes to join the Society,” including those with a perspective different from that of the conservative and libertarian members. Federalist Society events are open to the public and the media. The organization claims a “strong reputation for hosting speakers on all sides of the ideological spectrum.”
The tens of thousands of members of the Federalist Society and frequent participants at its events have become an influential source of federal court nominees, cabinet appointments, and legal assistance for Republican presidents since the Reagan administration.
The Society’s founding event—a legal conference organized for and by conservative and libertarian law students in 1982—demonstrates the influence of its earliest supporters and founders. Organizers of and participants at this event included Lee Liberman Otis (the Society’s senior vice president who would go on to be a staffer in the George H.W. Bush White House Counsel’s office), David McIntosh (later an aide during the Reagan administration and a member of Congress), Steven Calabresi (now a professor at Northwestern University and co-chair of the Society Board), Ted Olson (later the U.S. Solicitor General in the George W. Bush administration), future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (appointed by President Reagan), and Robert Bork (a federal judge who would later be nominated for the Supreme Court by President Reagan, but not confirmed by the U.S. Senate). 
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump pledged that attorneys affiliated with the Society and the Heritage Foundation would be strongly considered as candidates for appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. After Trump’s victory, then-Federalist Society executive vice president Leonard Leo joined the president-elect’s transition team and provided input regarding a candidate to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died nine months before the presidential election.
The candidate selected and later confirmed was Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. At the time of his nomination by President Trump in 2017 Gorsuch was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and had been a regular participant in Federalist Society events dating back to at least 2009. Similarly, both of President Trump’s next two nominations to fill Supreme Court vacancies—U.S. Court of Appeals judges Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—had also been frequent panelists and speakers at Society events over many years. 
Trump also nominated judges and lawyers affiliated with the Federalist Society to fill other openings on the federal courts. A January 2019 Washington Post Magazine report counted 25 of his first 30 appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals as having connections to the Federalist Society. For instance, Coney Barrett had been a member as a law professor at Notre Dame in 2017, prior to her nomination to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) played a major role in the process of confirming nominees to the federal bench during the Trump administration. McConnell has been a frequent and prominent speaker at Federalist Society events since well before assuming the leadership of the Senate Republicans. He gave the opening address at the Federalist Society’s 2010 National Lawyers Convention.
Also providing strong input in judicial selections early in the Trump administration was Don McGahn, who claimed at a Society event in 2017 that he had been a member “since law school.” McGahn was the lawyer for the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and later President Trump’s first White House Counsel.
Eugene Scalia, a son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, served as Secretary of the Department of Labor during the Trump administration. An attorney and legal appointee for posts in previous Republican administrations, he has been a frequent speaker and panelist at Federalist Society events.
In addition to the nominees presented for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Trump, Justices Samuel Alito (nominated by President George W. Bush) and Clarence Thomas (nominated by President George H.W. Bush) also have a history of affiliation with the Federalist Society. Alito was a panelist at Society events as far back as November 2000, while he was a federal judge but prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court. Thomas has stated that his affiliation with the Society extends back into the 1980s.
Lee Liberman Otis, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, was an associate White House Counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration. According to a report in the left-leaning news website Slate, part of her responsibility was assisting with the president’s judicial selections.
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a frequent speaker at Federalist Society events from the Society’s earliest days and appeared as a panelist during the Society’s First Annual National Lawyers’ Convention in 1987. Justice Scalia’s legal and historical legacy has remained a topic of consideration at Society events since his death in 2016. 
Future President George H.W. Bush (then Vice President in the Reagan administration) provided the opening address at the First Annual National Lawyer’s Convention in 1987. Other prominent speakers and panel participants at the 1987 convention included former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Edwin Meese III (then the U.S. Attorney General), John Bolton (who would later become National Security Advisor in the Trump administration), and federal Judge Robert Bork.
Federalist Society Events
The Federalist Society’s national and regional events provide a major source of idea-sharing and networking for the 75,000 attorneys and students who participate.
A January 2019 Washington Post Magazine profile of the Federalist Society provided an example of this networking in operation. In the hallways of the hotel hosting the organization’s November 2009 National Lawyers Convention, several attorneys were having an animated discussion about the potential legal weaknesses in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), then winding its way through Congress. That discussion developed into a legal memo drafted by Georgetown University Law Center professor Randy Barnett and two other attorneys for the Heritage Foundation. The legal points raised in the document formed the core of challenges to Affordable Care Act that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Washington Post profile explained how the influence of the Society is demonstrated by this example:
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.
The National Lawyers’ Convention, held each year since 1987, is the most prominent event on the Society’s annual calendar. Speakers and attendees regularly include federal judges, political figures, and attorneys affiliated with the Federalist Society. But prominent experts in the respective legal fields fill out the breakout seminars, with a special emphasis on speakers with dissenting viewpoints. The author of the Washington Post profile noted he “was impressed” because “true to its claim, the Federalist Society really had invited capable liberal advocates to try to rebut conservative perspectives.” 
Other events and seminars across the nation—more than 1,000 annually—provide similar networking opportunities for launching both major legal innovations and careers. The Washington Post profile compared the Federalist Society to a “talent network and placement agency” because it provides junior lawyers a “proving ground where they hone their arguments, seize a chance to shine and come to the attention of mentors higher up in the political-legal hierarchy.” 
The Federalist Society has chapters and hosts events at more than 200 of the nation’s most prominent law schools. In March 2018, the dean of the Georgetown University Law Center praised the Federalist Society for being one of the school’s “most active student organizations” and for its willingness to “regularly, happily, engagedly partner with our student organizations across the viewpoint spectrum to ensure the widest range of ideas are explored on the issues of the most urgent consequence.”
Commenting on the Federalist Society’s networking power for the Washington Post report in January 2019, Leonard Leo (then the organization’s executive vice president) said: “It’s less about who gets what job and more about building a community that can be self-perpetuating and self-sustaining and self-driving.”
Left-of-center legal experts, political figures and advocates have frequently appeared as contributors at Federalist Society events. All events are open to the public and the organization claims a “strong reputation for hosting speakers on all sides of the ideological spectrum.” A Washington Post Magazine reporter attending the November 2018 National lawyers Convention wrote that the “Federalist Society really had invited capable liberal advocates to try to rebut conservative perspectives.” One recurring example is Nadine Strossen, the former national president of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008) and an emerita professor at New York Law School, who has participated in more than a dozen Federalist Society events since 2018.  
Neil Eggleston participated in an April 2020 Federalist Society panel discussion regarding executive power. Eggleston is a former White House Counsel to President Barack Obama, and an Associate White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton. He was a speaker for at least five Society events after leaving the Obama administration in January 2017.
Also, in August 2020, William Marshall, professor at the North Carolina School of Law, was one of two speakers in a teleconference event titled “COVID-19 and Religious Matters.” Marshall is a former deputy White House Counsel to Democratic President Bill Clinton and has participated in more than a dozen Federalist Society events since becoming a law professor.
David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) participated in a September 2020 panel discussion on environmental policy and has contributed to at least four other Federalist Society events since 2015.
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe was one of three constitutional legal experts interviewed in a Federalist Society video examining the Ninth Amendment that was released in late September 2020. Tribe was an advisory board member for the left-leaning American Constitution Society and in 2008 actively campaigned for the election of Democratic President Barack Obama.  Tribe has contributed to at least four Federalist Society panel discussions or debates since 1987.
A representative from the left-leaning Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) presented the case for a government-controlled single-payer health care system in a September 2020 Federalist Society debate titled “Medicare for All? A National Single-Payer v. Private Payer Insurance Debate.”
Left-leaning academic Lawrence Lessig participated in two 2020 events examining the future of the electoral college. Lessig is the founder of Equal Citizens, a left-leaning advocacy organization that seeks to place limits on campaign-related speech. He has also been an advisor or board member to other left-leaning advocacy organizations, such as Patriotic Millionaires and MapLight.  
National Lawyers Convention
Guests from left-of-center organizations are also invited to and contribute to the Federalist Society’s annual National Lawyers Convention. For example, the director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO appeared on panels during the National lawyers Conventions in 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016. Bernard Nussbaum, former White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, participated in the 2000 event. And at the 1991 event, when she was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, future U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) participated in a panel discussion regarding bankruptcy law.
Examples from the November 2019 National Lawyers Convention included:
- Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence: Jonathan Lowy, the chief counsel and vice president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence participated in a panel discussion titled “Originalism, Populism, and the Second Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms.” Together with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (the two entities are often referred to as the “Brady Campaign”), the Brady Center promotes restrictions on the right of individuals to own and use firearms and participates in lawsuits to achieve that end. Lowy has participated in at least three other Federalist Society events since March 2013.
- National Immigrant Justice Center: Mark Fleming of the left leaning National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) participated in a panel titled “The Wisdom and Legality of Sanctuary Cities.” The NIJC supports the creation of sanctuary cities and Fleming has provided legal assistance in the drafting of these ordinances.
- Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations: Alexander J.S. Colvin, Dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, participated on a panel discussion titled “Arbitration in the #MeToo Era.” As with the similar programs, such as the Wayne State University Labor Studies Center, the Cornell ILR school is closely affiliated with left-leaning labor unions and advocacy organizations such as the AFL-CIO, Make the Road New York and 32BJ SEIU. 
- Constitutional Accountability Center: Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), participated in a panel discussion titled “What is Originalism.” CAC is a left-leaning alternative to the Federalist Society. Wydra has participated in at least six Federalist Society events since 2013. 
As of September 2020, the leadership and management of the Federalist Society was as follows:
President and CEO
Eugene B. Meyer is FedSoc’s president and CEO. Meyer worked in a variety of senior leadership roles with the Federalist Society for more than three decades. He is a board member for the Holman Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
Senior Vice President
Society senior vice president Lee Liberman Otis was a founding director of the Federalist Society and has been involved with it since it began. She is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, was an associate White House Counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration, and has held many other legal positions within the Federal government.
Leonard A. Leo and Steven G. Calabresi chair the FedSoc board. Calabresi is a professor at the Northwestern University Pritzker Law School and has been the chair of the Federalist Society Board since 1986. Leo was previously the Society’s executive vice president, and had worked for the society for 25 years and served on the Trump administration transition team.
The Federalist Society states that 90 percent of its donations are from “individuals and foundations” with the remaining ten percent coming from businesses. Additional information regarding its financing is available from federal tax forms submitted by the Federalist Society and many of its foundation donors.
Membership dues and conference fees accounted for more than $1.4 million of the Federalist Society’s 2018 revenue of $22.6 million. According to the recordkeeping service Foundation Search, approximately $4 million was provided by 47 separate foundation sources. 
The three largest of these institutional foundation donors in 2018 were as follows:
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($768,000). The Koch Foundation is also a donor to libertarian public interest law firms such as the Institute for Justice. 
- William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($543,000). Hewlett mostly donates to left-of-center advocacy organizations such as the Center for American Progress. 
- John Templeton Foundation ($423,000). Templeton is also a donor to free-market think tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. 
Other donors to FedSoc included the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Mercer Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the National Philanthropic Trust, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, the Marcus Family Foundation, and the Schwab Charitable Fund,.
Left-of-center organizations and political figures have often criticized the Federalist Society’s success. The most prominent of the left-leaning critics has been U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), with the assistance of other Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In a June 2020 report in The Hill, Brian Fallon of Demand Justice said Whitehouse was “the Federalist Society’s biggest enemy in the Senate.” Demand Justice is a left-of-center advocacy group created in early 2018 within the Arabella Advisors network of liberal “dark money” that aims to influence the political leanings of America’s courts by supporting the appointment of liberal judicial nominees, opposing right-of-center nominees, and, when a Democrat holds power in the White House, demanding the U.S. Supreme Court be “packed” with additional seats to secure liberal Democratic control.
Democratic Senate Policy Report
The Federalist Society was extensively criticized over several dozen pages in a May 2020 report produced by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), a partisan political organization composed of Democratic U.S. Senators and chaired by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The report, titled Captured Courts: The GOP’s Big Money Assault On The Constitution, Our Independent Judiciary, And the Rule of Law, was prepared by the offices of Stabenow, Whitehouse, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The DPCC document accused the Federalist Society of hiding an “anti-government, anti-regulatory agenda” by using so-called “code words” such as “individual freedom and limited government.” The organization’s real goal, according to the Democratic senators, is to “erode the independence of our courts” and “rewrite the law according to the political orthodoxy of Federalist Society donors.”
As a specific example of this agenda, the DPCC document cited civil liberties litigation regarding self-defense: “The Federalist Society also openly embraced the Republican Party’s far-right social agenda—serving, for instance, as a hub for the gun industry’s successful effort to create from whole cloth an individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment (using a theory Republican-appointed Chief Justice Warren Burger once called a “fraud on the American public”).” The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in December 1791 as one of the ten amendments that became known as the “Bill of Rights,” states as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Attacks from Sheldon Whitehouse
In a series of U.S. Senate floor speeches during spring 2019, Whitehouse accused the Federalist Society of a “court fixing scheme” designed to “pack the judiciary” and “rig the system in favor of special interests.” He further accused the legal organization of being the “nerve center for a complicated apparatus that does not care much about conservative principles like judicial restraint, or originalism, or textualism,” and said instead its objective was “installing judges that are poised to systematically and relentlessly dismantle government agencies that keep us safe and secure.” Whitehouse’s aggressive attacks on the Federalist Society both on the Senate Floor, in briefs to the Supreme Court, and in other writings have been criticized as conspiratorial nonsense by critics. Critics also condemned Whitehouse’s support for a proposal, first advanced by a former major donor of his whom Whitehouse helped obtain a federal judgeship, to bar federal judges from membership in the Federalist Society and his threats in an amicus brief to pack the Supreme Court if it took certain gun-rights cases.
Whitehouse was the lead witness during a September 22, 2020, subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee titled: “Maintaining Judicial Independence and the Rule of Law: Examining the Causes and Consequences of Court Capture.” The committee, controlled by a Democratic majority, had invited Whitehouse to share his allegation that right-of-center advocacy organizations were exerting an unfair advantage over the selection of appointees to the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In a July 2020 news release, jointly signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Whitehouse had accused these ideological opponents of a “decades long effort” to “rig the courts.” 
Whitehouse read to the committee a brief 1100-word opening statement in which he mentioned Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society three times, at one point accusing Leo of playing a lead role in a large network that “has the earmarks of a massive covert operation, screened behind dark-money secrecy, run by a small handful of big special interests, against their own country.” Whitehouse also identified the United States Chamber of Commerce and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell as among the progenitors of this alleged network, which he accused of seeking to roll back “civil rights and women’s rights” and perpetuating “evil that makes other evils possible.” 
After reading his prepared remarks and being thanked by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), the committee chair, Whitehouse stood up, walked out of the hearing room, and refused to take questions. This occurred over the objections of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who—while Whitehouse was still in the room—asked: “He came in here and leveled all sorts of accusations against Republicans and he is not going to take any questions from us?” Chairman Johnson replied: “Our agreement with the senator is that he would not take questions.”
In an editorial posted hours later the Wall Street Journal editorial board quoted Whitehouse’s statement and criticized him for making a baseless accusation of treason against mere ideological opponents: “Mr. Whitehouse sees his opponents as treasonous, though all of what he denounces is legal and protected by the First Amendment.”
The Journal’s editorial board also criticized Whitehouse for “refusing to abide by the normal practice for congressional witnesses of answering questions.” The Journal editors titled their essay “Sheldon Whitehouse Goes Dark: The Senator refuses to take questions about his own dark-money ties,” and stated a theory for why questions were not permitted:
Mr. Whitehouse knew that, if he answered questions, he was under legal obligation to tell the truth. House Republicans might have asked him about the dark-money outfit Arabella Advisors. This for-profit entity oversees nonprofits including the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund, which together reported nearly a billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and 2018.
Arabella affiliate Demand Justice ran a smear campaign against Brett Kavanaugh and is now calling for Democrats to pack the Supreme Court. Demand Justice bills itself as a “project” of the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund, and in public disclosures it lists the same office address as the two nonprofits.
One day earlier the Wall Street Journal editorial board posted an editorial anticipating Whitehouse’s testimony and suggested the hearing was “a chance for the Republican minority to ask Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about his ties to what he likes to call “dark money” and court packing.”
Examples of the Journal editorial board’s suggested “Questions for Senator Whitehouse” included: 
When a Daily Caller reporter asked Mr. Whitehouse last year if Demand Justice and groups like it have donated to his campaign, the Senator replied, “hope so.” So has he received money from Demand Justice and other Arabella affiliates? Has he collaborated with them to block President Trump’s judicial nominees? 
[ . . . ] Curious minds may also wonder if any group that directly or indirectly receives funding from Arabella has paid for the briefs Mr. Whitehouse has filed at the Supreme Court. One of those briefs threatened the Court with being “restructured” if it didn’t rule the way he and four Senate colleagues demanded.