Minneapolis attorney Felix Phillips has regularly attended the annual Federalist Society lawyers convention in Washington in years past, and I have regularly expressed my desire to attend with him. Felix is the first attorney for whom I ever worked and has become a good friend. I finally got around to joining him this year.
The convention took place Thursday through Saturday and featured speakers including Solicitor General Paul Clement, Senators McCain and Specter, Justice Scalia — the Society’s first faculty advisor, whose twenty years on the Supreme Court bench were celebrated on Thursday evening at a dinner of 1,500 — Justice Alito, and Vice President Cheney, who gave the Society’s sixth annual Barbara K. Olson Memorial Lecture.
You may remember a confirmation battle about Justice Alito — his confirmation was vividly recalled and celebrated on Thursday evening as well. His speech paid tribute to the constructive effect of the Federalist Society on the legal profession over the past twenty years. In his very funny speech he openly declared himself a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society.
In between such stellar speakers the Society scheduled outstanding panel discussions of topics related to the theme of limited government to which this year’s convention was devoted. The panels reflected deep scholarship and impassioned debate. I found them exhilarating.
As always is the case with such Federalist Society discussions, the panels included speakers spanning the range of respectable opinion within the legal profession, ably represented by practicing attorneys, law professors, policy makers and judges. Some of the stars on this year’s panels, for example, were State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow, Yale Law School Professor William Eskridge, University of Chicago Law Professor Richard Epstein, Amherst College Professor Hadley Arkes, Boalt Hall Professor John Yoo, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, Human Rights Watch advocacy director Jennifer Daskal, DC Circuit Judges Patricia Wald and Brett Kavanaugh, Fifth Circuit Judges Edith Jones and Priscilla Owen, Seventh Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook and Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor. You may recall a confirmation battle or two involving a few of the circuit judges. I believe that their their presence as judges lifted the spirits of many in attendance.
My friend Felix attended the University of Minnesota — he was a star of its tennis team — during the glory days of its English Department. On our way to the convention I asked Felix if he had taken courses from any of the renowned teachers who taught in the department during the ’50s. He said he had taken a poetry course from Allen Tate. Felix recalled that Tate had asked him in one class what the meaning of “liberal education” is. In response Felix quoted Robert Benchley to the effect that a liberal education is one involving no classes before 11:00 am or after 3:00 pm and no fooling around with mathematics or any of the other fly-by-night sciences. Tate laughed; Felix is that kind of guy. The convention, however, comported with the classic definition of a liberal education that Tate had in mind.
Much that occurred during the convention was newsworthy. Both the New York Times and Washington Post ran stories on the convention. Both stories are written with a distinct point of view. According to the Times, the convention was shrouded in gloom because of the election results. According to the Post, the convention was festive despite the election results. Something’s happening here. As usual, if you rely on the MSM for your information, what it is ain’t exactly clear.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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