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The Federalist Society and the "Structural Constitution:" An Epistemic Community At Work

  • Author(s): Hollis-Brusky, Amanda
  • Advisor(s): Kagan, Robert A.
  • Stimson, Shannon C.
  • et al.
Abstract

This thesis contributes to an understanding of the pathways of civic influence into the least dangerous branch of American politics - the Judicial Branch. Specifically, this thesis examines the influence of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy - a conservative and libertarian legal network of more than 40,000 members - on twelve of the most salient Supreme Court decisions concerning federalism and the separation of powers over the last three decades. As a special case, it also examines Federalist Society influence on a subset of controversial Executive Branch policies issued under George W. Bush. To understand the unique nature of this civic group's influence, it establishes the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy as a kind of epistemic community; i.e., a network of legal professionals and civic leaders bound together and shaped by a set of beliefs about law, the nature of government, and constitutional interpretation. Using this framework, it proceeds to demonstrate how individual members of the Federalist Society acted as "cognitive baggage handlers," carrying these shared ideas into their roles as judges, academics, litigators, and government officials. Finally, it evaluates the extent to which these actors were successful or not in diffusing the epistemic community's ideas into law and policy. It finds that while there is substantial evidence of Federalist Society influence in the areas of federalism and separation of powers, overall the results have been mixed. The final chapter examines why that was and speculates as to the conditions that might facilitate and frustrate epistemic community influence more generally.

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