By Dylan Hosmer-Quint, FTC senior researcher
Just weeks after the federal judiciary abandoned a common-sense ethics reform rule that would have prevented judges from maintaining formal affiliations with the conservative Federalist Society and the liberal American Constitution Society, FedSoc held an event (screenshot right) showcasing its deep partisanship.
The discussion at its annual Supreme Court roundup (Aug. 10) was framed in an explicitly political lens. From Reg Brown’s diatribes against Sen. Chuck Schumer and cancel culture, to Miguel Estrada’s complaints about Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the media and the Democratic Party, the event sounded more like a Twitter rant than a measured discussion forum.
The problem here is not the overt partisanship, per se; rather, it’s that federal judges are financing it with their dues. That signals to the American public that they have chosen a political team rather than sticking to the role of umpire.
Watch the event? Fine. Attend it post-COVID? Great. But don’t subsidize the denigration of half the country.
Take Estrada’s portion of the talk. He mentioned his tradition of awarding a prize during the roundup to someone “who exemplifies egregious hypocrisy, crass dealing and dishonorable behavior.” He went on to say that this award was often presented to Feinstein, but that this year, it would go to the Democratic Party as a whole and the mainstream media for supporting the racial justice protests of the past few months.
He also spoke about Joe Biden’s mental capacity in a way that would seem to run afoul of how 501(c)(3) groups like FedSoc are supposed to speak about presidential candidates this close to an election.
Ultimately, Estrada’s comments reveal something we already know. The Federalist Society is a conservative institution with deep partisan interests and ties to the political process. When the judiciary decided to allow judges to maintain their memberships in the organization, it signaled a willingness to let open partisanship run rampant in the third branch.
Some highlights with timestamps from here:
“But [Estrada’s confirmation as federal judge] was not to be, as the New York Times and many so called progressives, blocked his confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent Miguel from possibly later being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Why? Because he was a principled, conservative, Hispanic lawyer. There’s a new term for what happened to Miguel. It’s called cancel culture, and I’m proud to say that it has no place in the Federalist Society, where all viewpoints, if well-reasoned and backed by argument and data, are welcome.” -Brown introducing Estrada (1:45:24 left) [FTC note: If “all viewpoints are welcome,” how do you think “well-reasoned” left-of-center viewpoints fare at a FedSoc roundup event?]
“At this point in his life, he would never willingly place himself in any situation in which convention requires that he be civil to Chuck Schumer.” -Brown introducing Estrada (1:44:26 left) [FTC note: What if they were opposing counsel, or if Estrada were testifying before the Senate? He wouldn’t be civil then?]
“We try to award a prize […] to the individual who exemplifies egregious hypocrisy, crass dealing and dishonorable behavior. This is usually difficult because this is Washington, but we usually have candidates. I think Sen. Feinstein has won several years running now, because she’s just such a target-rich environment. She’s a candidate again this year – not long ago she was out on television flacking for the Red Chinese. You have to really be tone deaf to be doing that. […] But I think it would be hard to top the collective conduct of the media and the Democratic Party, if you think there is a difference between those two things, in dealing with the ongoing conditions of unrest in some of our cities. And failing to grapple with what’s going on.” -Estrada (1:41:03 left) [FTC note: is speaking this way about a candidate for office consistent with rules governing a 501(c)(3)?]
“This is called a cognitive incapacity test, this is the Joe Biden branch of the test, you really have no idea who you are, where you are, whether the guy is your brother, your wife, or your sister. The second branch is you don’t know right from wrong, even if you do know that the guy is your brother. Before you think that’s the Chuck Schumer branch of the test, that would be wrong. It is that you don’t know right from wrong, not that you like wrong better than right.” -Estrada (1:30:40 left)