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The Federalist Society litmus test

By A. James Memmott

November 20, 2007 at 4:02pm

Membership in the Federalist Society, a group for conservative or libertarian law students and lawyers, has recently helped open doors to jobs in the federal government, especially the judiciary.

But given the Democratic Congress and other factors, Federalist Society membership, or even past Federalist Society membership, may not be the plus it was.

At least that’s what Rachel K. Paulose has alleged.

Paulose, 34, resigned her position Monday as U.S. attorney in Minnesota after a short, but contentious time in office. She’ll now work with the Department of Justice in Washington.

Before she stepped down, Paulose, who joined the Federalist Society in 2001, according to her resume, but may not be a member now, fired off this online salvo:

“The McCarthyite hysteria that permits the anonymous smearing of any public servant who is now, or ever may have been, a member of the Federalist Society; a person of faith; and/or a conservative (especially a young, conservative woman of color) is truly a disservice to our country.”

Minnesota staffers had criticized the management style of Paulose, a 1997 Yale Law School graduate. Some also asked to be reassigned from their administrative positions.

The New York Times also reported last week that the Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Paulose may have mishandled classified documents and used a racial epithet in speaking about an employee.

Paulose has denied the charges.

Writing in the National Review Online before Paulose’s resignation, Scott W. Johnson deplored the attacks upon Paulose.

“If my friend Rachel Paulose were a liberal Democrat, she would be a celebrity,” Johnson wrote. “Serving as the United States attorney for Minnesota, she is the first woman, the first immigrant (Indian), the first Asian, and, at age 34, the youngest attorney ever to hold the position.”

Johnson deplored the use of Federalist Society membership as a litmus test.

Bloggers on the other side countered that some Federalist connection was a litmus test for Paulose getting the job in the first place.

Paulose’s status in the society is somewhat unclear. A resume filed with the House Judiciary Committee this year lists her membership in the Federalist Society from “2001 to present.” Some press reports have described her as a “former” member of the society.

Though it’s sometimes depicted as shadowy, there certainly is nothing secret about the Federalist Society, whose full name is the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.

Two law students founded the group in 1982 as a counter-balance to what they saw as liberal orthodoxy in law schools.

According to its website, the society has 5,000 student members in about 180 law schools and 20,000 other members, most of whom are lawyers.

The society held its 25th annual National Lawyers Convention last week in Washington. Both President Bush and presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani spoke to the group.

Its membership roles contain a kind of conservative Who’s Who including associate Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alioto and Antonin Scalia, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch.

During the 2005 Senate hearings on his nomination to be U.S. Supreme Court justice, John G. Roberts, then a federal appeals court judge, said he didn’t recall being a member of the society.

Then the name of Roberts, who is now the court’s chief justice, was found in a 1997-98 Federalist Society directory. Regardless, the White House countered, Roberts was not a member, as he hadn’t paid his dues.

At his 2001 hearings on his nomination to a Justice Department post, Viet D. Dinh, who went on to be the chief author of the U.S. Patriot Act, freely admitted that he was in the society, though he was foggy on details.

“I am a member of the Federalist Society,” said Dinh, as reported in the Times, “and I do not know, quite frankly, what it stands for.”

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