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Conservative Organization Flourishes at Yale Law School

It may come as a surprise to some, but one of the most successful student organizations at Yale Law School during the 2006-2007 school year was the Yale Law Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarian law students committed to “preserving the mainstays of our free government: federalism, the separation of powers, and judicial fidelity to the text of the Constitution.”

“We dissent from the tired liberal orthodoxy reigning in America's law schools and at Yale,” reads the statement on the Yale Law Federalist Society website. 

Though Society members may disagree with what they see as the mainstream thought at Yale, that very tension serves them well, according to Christopher Angevine ’08, Vice President of Events for the group. “I tell conservative students they should come here because it will make them better lawyers,” he said. “It helps you hone your debate if your beliefs are constantly challenged.”

From what used to be a small group of self-described “true believers,” the Federalist Society at Yale has grown to approximately 80 members and is attempting to reach out to a wider audience by offering more interesting events and encouraging a diversity of viewpoints.

“Our events are attended by a mix of students who represent the full range of Yale's ideological spectrum,” said Eugene Nardelli ’07, president of the Federalist Society. “In fact, some liberal students so regularly attend that they have asked to be added to the email list.”

The Society hosted 12 major events this year, some jointly with Yale Law School’s American Constitution Society, on topics such as gay marriage, the constitutionality and advisability of punitive damages awards, the influence of blogs on the practice of law, and free speech issues raised by depictions of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.  Most drew more than 100 people.

About 350 attended a lecture given by John Stossel of ABC’s 20/20 in October on “Freedom and Its Enemies,” and Dean Harold Koh debated international law with Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith before a group of 150 in March. (Click here for video.) 

Other big draws included a presentation by John Bellinger, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, on “The Constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act,” and a debate between Harvard Law’s Charles Ogletree and the Manhattan Institute’s Dr. Abigail Thernstrom on “The Temporary Provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”   

“We try to bring up issues for discussion that wouldn’t otherwise be discussed and present speakers who wouldn’t otherwise be heard,” said Angevine.

Other notable speakers this year included Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former U.S. Senator James Buckley, and Lorianne Updike, President & Executive Director of the Constitutional Sources Project.

The Yale Law Federalist Society is part of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, founded in 1982 by law students from several schools, including Yale. The national organization claims 40,000 members and has student chapters at 180 law schools.

For more information about the Yale Law Federalist Society, visit yalefedsoc.org.