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This fall the leftist American Constitution Society for Law and Policy will compete nationally with the conservative and libertarian Federalist Society for a place in law schools around the country, and the new organization already has found a place at one Texas law school — the University of Texas. Before the ACS (formerly known as the Madison Society for Law and Policy) came to be, there was nothing on the left side of the proverbial ideology continuum to balance the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society is a force to be reckoned with in Washington, D.C. Influential federalist John D. Ashcroft heads the Department of Justice, and numerous federal judges support the organization, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Former Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork is co-chairman of the Federalist Society’s board of visitors. ACS is trying to jump-start an offensive to counter that influence. At its first annual summer Washington event, held on July 30, more than 800 people attended and hundreds more were turned away, according to reports on the group’s Web site, www.madisonsociety.org. And such notables as former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former U.S. Attorney General Walter Dellinger and Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe spoke at the event. The first chapter of the ACS was formed in 1999 by a group of law students at Georgetown University Law Center. The group’s goal is “to help restore to American law a steadfast commitment to upholding the rights, liberties and dignity” of people. By contrast, the Federalist Society’s goal is to offer an alternative voice in law schools “currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology, which advocates a centralized and uniform society,” according to its Web site, www.fed-soc.org. Last January, the Institute for Democracy Studies, a nonprofit group that conducts research on legal organizations that are challenging mainstream American democratic jurisprudence, issued a briefing paper studying the Federalist Society titled, “The Federalist Society and the Challenge to a Democratic Jurisprudence.” According to the report, the Federalist Society is more than a group of lawyers with reactionary ideas: “Although the Society never argues a motion or files a case, it is quietly gaining influence in key areas of the American judicial system.” “It’s clearer now than ever just how pervasive and dominant extreme conservatism has become in American law,” says the ACS’ founder, Peter J. Rubin. He believes the moderate and progressive voices have left the field of debate, and only one side has been organized or heard. “And I certainly think that people are deeply concerned with the change in the path of the federal judiciary,” he says. Eugene Meyer, executive director of the Federalist Society in Washington, says he is not opposed to the formation of the new group. “To the extent it is said that it’s interested in doing some of the things the Federalist Society has done but from a left-wing vantage point, if that means putting more emphasis on debate, I think the more of that there is, the better,” Meyer says. Considering that the Federalist Society, founded in 1982, has been busy promoting its vision for two decades, the ACS will have to work fast to catch up. Currently the Federalist Society is organized in 145 law schools and has approximately 4,000 members, Meyer says. The ACS, on the other hand, has received inquiries from students and faculty at 75 campuses across the country, says David Halperin, ACS’ executive director, who predicts that by the fall ACS “will have thousands of members.” UT law Professor Lynn E. Blais will act as the faculty sponsor who will promote the organization on her campus this fall. She is a former Harvard Law School classmate of Rubin’s, and he asked her to consider organizing a chapter at UT. “The students who are supportive will start it,” Blais says. “My first step will be in the fall, when the students come back. I will provide information to the students, making it clear that I’m willing to be a faculty sponsor and see if there are students willing to start a chapter.” Students from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law don’t yet have a faculty sponsor, but they’ve written the ACS indicating their willingness to form chapters at their schools as well, says Rhett Millsaps, associate director of the ACS. “Eventually we hope to have chapters at every law school in Texas,” Rubin says. But whether faculty at other law schools in Texas will follow UT’s lead and organize their own chapters remains to be seen. Rubin believes it will happen. “We’ve received requests for information from a number of other law schools in Texas, and we’re very encouraged by the response,” he says, declining to give details. “We’ve also put together chapters for practicing lawyers in Texas and are encouraged by that.”

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