Bench Memos

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Steven M. Teles’s The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement


In The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, Steven M. Teles, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, explains “how the conservative legal movement, outsmarted and undermanned in the 1970s, became the sophisticated and deeply organized network of today.”  Based heavily on his interviews with movement leaders and on his review of internal documents of key organizations, the book is a sober and sophisticated work of political science.  But, far from being jargon-laden, it’s crisply and clearly written and provides a very interesting read.  It’s not every book that bears favorable blurbs from folks spanning the political spectrum—from Al Gore and Yale law professor Jack Balkin to AEI president Christopher DeMuth and Princeton professor Robert P. George—but Teles’s book deserves the praise.


Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy has provided a good summary of the book, so I won’t provide an extended summary here.  Readers who will enjoy the book include those who have a particular interest in the subjects and entities that are highlighted—(1) the law-and-economics movement, including Richard Posner, Henry Manne, the Olin Foundation and the Olin programs, and George Mason University School of Law; (2) the Federalist Society (“without a doubt, the most vigorous, durable, and well-ordered organization to emerge from [the] rethinking of modern conservatism’s political strategy”); and (3) conservative public interest law, especially the Institute for Justice and the Center for Individual Rights.  But the book also offers important insights for anyone who aims to think strategically about “large-scale political change,” conservative or otherwise.  

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