The success of the Federalist Society chapters in law schools around the country helped inspire the creation of the American Constitution Society (ACS). Contrasing the two organizations is quite interesting. For instance, I spoke at the first ACS convention, and I was struck at how self-consciously activist much of the proceedings were. Unlike the typical Federalist Society conference, few panels were devoted to a dispassionate investigation of legal questions. At the environmental panel, where I was the token representative of an alternative view, half the questions were of the “how do we get the message out and win” variety, and ignored the substance of the discussion. Yet whenever I’ve spoken at a Fed Soc conference, the questions and discussion always focus on more substantive questions of law and policy.
What brought this to mind is that, last week, the Case ACS chapter sponsored an anti-inaugural event. Posters advertising the meeting showed pictures of Bush and encouraged students and faculty “to the left of far-right” to attend and speak out about the prospects of Bush’s second term. This certainly struck me as more partisan than the typical Fed Soc promotion. I am sure it’s possible that some Fed Soc chapter has hosted an equivalent event, but it would not be the norm. I think this is because, at their core, the differences between the two organizations is far more than ideological. The Fed Soc is focused on ideas out of which activism sometimes flows (and sometimes does not), whereas the ACS is more directly focused on activism itself. The irony is that the ACS is trying to reproduce the Fed Soc on the left — thus far, they are failing.