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Constitutional Imperatives

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An aggressive movement is afoot to do for liberals and a progressive American justice system what the Federalist Society has done for conservative causes over the past twenty years. The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), barely three years old and spreading rapidly to campuses throughout the country, is intent on bringing the law back toward the left and halting what many see as a two-decades-long erosion of respect for fundamental rights.

"I am afraid that one must say that the law is too often something other than a means of achieving justice," says Professor Kent Greenfield, who was instrumental in establishing the ACS's BC Law chapter.

Greenfield made his remarks when introducing the Hon. Abner Mikva, former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals and an outspoken advocate for civil rights and judicial integrity. The occasion was Mikva's first stop on a nationwide tour for the ACS and the first event sponsored by the BC Law chapter. Scott Harshbarger of Common Cause has also been a speaker.

Formed in September, the chapter already boasts some seventy-five members and a roster of events that includes discussions on affirmative action, immigration, and new surveillance laws.

Liberal Feeder System
Until now, there has been no organized body equivalent to the Federalist Society, which started in the early 1980s as a group of conservative students, professors, and judges who wanted to move the discussion of the law to the right. They did scholarly work, hosted conferences, and developed a powerful network among legal practitioners and judges that became a feeder system to identify, hire, and promote students who shared the same values. Over time, the young people themselves ascended to positions where they could continue to increase their influence and numbers throughout the legal hierarchy.

As evidence of the effectiveness of the Federalists' networking, Greenfield points to the fact that many judicial appointees in recent Republican administrations have been members of the society. Leading conservative jurists such as Judge Frank Easterbrook of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh District and Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also routinely fill their clerkship positions with members of the Federalist Society.

"We seek to restore the fundamental principles of respect for human dignity, protection of individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to justice to their rightful, and traditionally central, place in American law, the ACS states on its website ("

Specifically, Greenfield says, the ACS seeks to counter the trends that put states' rights before civil rights, original intent before progressive interpretation, and the marketplace before government as the arbiter of freedoms.

On the first point, Greenfield explains the ACS's contention that the Supreme Court has "moved back to a fixation on states' rights and prerogatives, which almost always erodes the federal government's ability to make sure people are treated justly regardless of where they live in the US." As for original intent, Greenfield says that "instead of treating the Constitution as a living document that advances with the morals and intellect of the people it purports to govern, the conservatives view it as static and limited by the views and perspectives of the eighteenth century white men" who framed it. Finally, he says, "the conservative vision has been to use the marketplace as a surrogate for the law, so that someone's economic supremacy is cemented as legal supremacy, as if the New Deal never occurred." The New Deal changed the notion of freedom from government to freedom from human conditions such as oppression, hunger, fear, want, homelessness, and joblessness.

Zachary Heiden '02, the student president of the ACS, hopes to engage alumni as well as those on campus in developing the BC chapter. "Alumni interest would be fantastic, not just because it would be cross-generational but because alumni are in a better position to do something about these issues," Heiden says.

For more information on ACS membership and activities, email or -- Vicki Sanders

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