{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Friday, August 05, 2005

Debating the Subtle Sway of the Federalist Society - New York Times

Debating the Subtle Sway of the Federalist Society - New York Times

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Yet down the hall from Mr. Meyer's office, a vacated desk testified to the more activist role that members often play. It belonged to Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president, who doubles as the head of Catholic outreach for the Republican Party and who has taken a leave of absence to help Judge Roberts win confirmation.

As he argued that the society's influence flowed from its intellectual work - "I sound a little like a broken record, but what I'm excited about are the ideas"- Mr. Meyer also said he had benefited from news media training by Creative Response Concepts. That is the public relations firm that represented Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group whose advertisements in last year's presidential campaign attacked the war record of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee.

The Federalist Society hired the firm, Mr. Meyer said, to train members and place them on television shows during the confirmation process. He said the goal was to educate the public on the role of judges and courts. "Given the general philosophical outlook, the chances are very good that they'll support the nominee," Mr. Meyer said. "But that's not the purpose."

In the early days of the Bush presidency, administration officials said about a quarter of their judicial nominees were recommended by the Washington headquarters of the society. Mr. Meyer said the advice came from staff members speaking in their private capacities, not as official representatives.

With an annual budget of $5.5 million, the society has benefited from decades of support from prominent conservative organizations, including the John M. Olin, Sarah Scaife, and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations.

In the 1990's, three Federalist Society lawyers, Jerome M. Marcus, Richard W. Porter and George T. Conway, played important but covert roles in helping Paula Corbin Jones sue President Clinton for sexual harassment. They also worked behind the scenes to disclose Mr. Clinton's affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel whose report led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment, is a prominent member of the society, as is Theodore B. Olson, who successfully argued Bush v. Gore, the case that stopped the Florida recount in 2000 and ensured Mr. Bush's election.

According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, 15 of the 41 appeals court judges confirmed under Mr. Bush have identified themselves as members of the group. Complaining that the society serves as "the secret handshake" of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees, Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat on the committee, has repeatedly questioned them about the group's mission statement. Their answers, he said, have "ranged from the amusing to the preposterous."

Carolyn Kuhl, who later withdrew her stalled bid for an appeals court seat, wrote, "I did not participate in writing the mission statement."

"Therefore I am unable to opine," she said.

Jeffrey S. Sutton, who won a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, said, "I have no idea what their philosophy is."

Mr. Dinh, who left his Justice Department position in 2003 and now teaches law at Georgetown, said he answered candidly at his confirmation hearing. "I did not know, and still do not know, what the society stands for because it has no stated philosophy other than the exchange of ideas," he said. "There's no evasion in that. It's just as straightforward as it gets."

Mr. Durbin's questions did bring sharp words from one society member. "I am on the board of advisers of the Federalist Society, and I am darn proud of it," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Hatch called the society a group of lawyers "who are just sick and tired of the leftward leanings of our government.""
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