The Federalist Society Convention: Inside Washington’s REAL Nerd Prom
For conservative and libertarian lawyers, the Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington is the unrivaled social event of the year: a nationwide class reunion, plus prom, plus the Oscars—with after-parties‚ all rolled into one. And it goes on for three days, starting today.
But amid all this socializing and speechifying, the Society works each year to assemble roughly 20 thoughtful panel discussions or debates centered around the convention’s overarching theme. And the Society tends to choose that theme carefully, to speak to the most pressing constitutional question of the day.
The Society’s original national conference for students, in Reagan’s first term 25 years ago, was titled “A Symposium on Federalism.” Its first convention for lawyers, in 1987, was titled “Changing the Law: The Role of Lawyers, Judges, and Legislatures”—a fitting pick for a conference held the year after Justice Scalia’s appointment to the Supreme Court (and the same year as Judge Bork’s failed nomination to the Court). In 2000, as the nation awaited the outcome of the Bush vs. Gore lawsuits, the conference centered on “The Presidency.”
More recently, in 2015, the Federalist Society focused its conference on “The Role of Congress.” It coincided with the Society’s launch of a broader intellectual project on Congress’s constitutional powers and duties, titled “The Article I Initiative.”
This year the Federalist Society seems to have a similar goal in mind. Because the national lawyers convention’s overarching theme—“Administrative Agencies and the Regulatory State”—reflects the Society’s latest major intellectual venture: “The Regulatory Transparency Project.”
The Regulatory Transparency Project began quietly in 2016, by assembling groups of lawyers and scholars focused on particular subjects of regulation—such as business competition, health care, financial services, and intellectual property. Each group meets to discuss regulations in need of reform or repeal, debate possible reforms, and ultimately produce white papers on the issues. The Project started publishing its first reports this summer.