I attended the annual banquet of the Federalist Society Thursday night in Washington D.C., and learned about increasing efforts by law schools to restrict the number of debates Fed Soc sponsors on law school campuses around the nation. The Federalist Society is a group of conservative and libertarian law students who conduct debates on law school campuses with speakers of contrasting views on important topics. This may sound boring, but the Federalist Society is one of the most popular student groups at many law schools. Fed Soc chapters are popular, not because they are conservative, but because Fed Soc debates are one of the few times law students can hear a genuine debate on a topic, rather than a slanted presentation by a law professor who is probably very liberal.
A Fed Soc debate nullifies two distinct advantages professors have in promoting their views – they are much older and better educated than their students, and as professors, they have the power to give poor grades to students. When a Fed Soc chapter brings in an expert on an area of law to debate a leftist law professor, the professor is debating a knowledgeable peer, rather than a student who is probably not as expert on the subject. So a Fed Soc debate brings the sunlight of clarity to overwhelmingly liberal campus. At law schools like Harvard and the University of Chicago, the student Fed Soc chapter is one of the largest and most active student groups at the law school.
Some law schools are feeling threatened by the Fed Soc’s success, and are beginning to crack down on the Federalist Society’s debates. Gene Meyer, the president of the Federalist Society, in his address last Thursday night at the banquet, told of two unnamed law schools that have suddenly adopted rules that student organizations can only have events with outside speakers twice a semester. Many Fed Soc chapters conduct one or more events a week. And frequently they have to use outside speakers to find someone who is an expert on a particular topic. So to limit the number of meetings with outside speakers effectively chokes off opportunities to hear open and honest debates on significant topics.
If the two unnamed law schools are government schools, they may be violating the First Amendment with their restrictions on meetings with outside speakers. The First Amendment does not allow the government, including state university officials, to limit what a person or group can say on campus. If your college is limiting what you can say at your meetings, or limiting whom you can bring in as a speaker, your college may be violating the Constitution. Contact us at Alliance Defending Freedom if you have any questions, or if you know of a situation of school officials limiting free debate on campus. And may the Federalist Society grow and increase the number of debates and other events it holds on law school campuses.