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When the U.S. Supreme Court ambitions of Judge Robert H. Bork were famously smacked down by the U.S. Senate in 1987, his loyalists in the juridical world had somewhere to go and grump: an up-and-coming conservative campus group at Yale University called the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. Today, the Federalists are major players in the American conservative establishment. Now come liberals and progressives with the need for venting, and with the hope of instilling their worldview on law students and young attorneys. Still reeling from January’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore, which decided the presidential election, among other contentious decisions by the high court, lawyers of the left look to the nascent Madison Society for Law and Policy as counterpoint to what they see as a right-wing zeitgeist. Organized only two years ago at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., the Madison Society is now ready to go national. Among the handful of new chapters forming around the country, two affiliates are set to start up this fall in New York — at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law. And if Barbara Olshansky has her way, New York will also soon have a Madison Society chapter for practicing lawyers. Olshansky, assistant legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, remembered her own Reagan-era campus days as ideologically lonesome. With reference to the heroic litigator of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which an idealistic white lawyer in the Depression-era South defied the Jim Crow mentality in defense of a wrongfully accused black man, she explained the fundamental role of a network for young lawyers not of the Republican persuasion: “Sixteen years ago when I was at Stanford, I wanted to be Atticus Finch, and I wanted to know other people like me,” she said. “We ultimately found each other, but it was hard. “What about the Atticus Finches of today?” Olshansky might well have meant three summer associates at New York firms: Maria I. Krasnikow, Lindsay H. Tomenson and Anupama Chaturvedi. All three are New Yorkers and Georgetown students who signed up with the very first Madison Society chapter. “The more liberal-minded are in a lot of different, fragmented organizations,” said Krasnikow, 26, who is spending her summer at the Torys firm. “But they haven’t come together, and that’s where the Madison Society has an opportunity — to bring together like-minded progressive and liberal people who view the Constitution as a living document, and the law as a vehicle for change.” Chaturvedi, 26, was last year’s president of the Madison chapter at Georgetown. Assigned to pro bono work for the Manhattan civil division of the Legal Aid Society, she is working the second phase of her summer program at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman. With young lawyers burdened by loan repayments approaching $100,000, said Chaturvedi, “people are just more willing to go the corporate route.” She suggested that liberal young lawyers at or on their way to blue chip firms need the influence of more altruistic practitioners. “It’s hard to find people who revere lawyering for what it can do for people,” she said. Tomenson said the chance to mingle at Madison forums with professionals in public service law was what drew her interest. “I met counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and lawyers working death penalty cases in Texas,” said Tomsenson, 26, a summer associate at Davis, Polk & Wardwell. “It’s important for law students to get exposure to practicing attorneys who are dedicating their lives in these areas — to see that it’s something they can do, too.” All three young lawyers say an important benefit of being a Madisonian is in simply knowing Professor Peter J. Rubin, the energetic Georgetown faculty advisor who wants to move the society to a national stage. When he was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, Rubin said, “I saw the need to advance intellectual arguments and underpinnings for a more humane jurisprudence.” He found his vehicle in the fall of 1999, when former Georgetown students formed the first Madison Society chapter. In January of this year — with lawyers from the Clinton Administration at liberty, and in the wake of the presidential election — he began working in earnest to enlarge the group. “It had always been my vision for this to be a national organization,” said Rubin. With credit to the other side of the aisle, he added, “One of the things about the Federalists that is admirable is that it’s one of the few focuses of intellectual ferment on law school campuses in America. “There ought to also be a place where lawyers and students who are moderates or progressives to also gather, to talk about law that is animated by human values,” Rubin said. “We have had 20 years of very conservative legal thought.” At the end of the Supreme Court term, examples of what Rubin referenced were articulated in a coalition statement signed by social justice lawyers and civil rights organizations, including Olshansky’s group, NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The Court has taken steps to change fundamentally the powers of the national government, accomplishing this transformation in a string of opinions that routinely ignore precedent, as well as tenets of basic judgement,” the coalition statement declared. “These opinions thwart the will of the Congress and the electorate.” The coalition cited U.S. Supreme Court opinions of “extreme concern” during the last few years, such as: Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (holding that money awards in age discrimination claims are prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment); Alexander v. Sandoval (a Title VI action in which the Court held that there is no right of private action to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964); and Buckhannon v. West Virginia (a claim under the Americans with Disabilities and Fair Housing Amendments Acts in which the Court declined to award attorney’s fees to prevailing parties who reside in a state-owned assisted living residence). The Madisonians take their name — as do the Federalists — from James Madison, author of the Federalist Papers and the nation’s fourth president. Federalists claim to be ideological heirs to President Madison’s views on property rights, limited government and judicial neutrality. Madisonians admire the late president for his championship of individual liberties. “Neither side wants to give him up to the other,” said Chaturvedi. WELCOME FROM RIVAL “We really welcome any group to the general debate,” said Eugene E. Meyer, executive director of the Federalist Society. “I don’t think there’s enough open, civil, fair debate. “As the Madison Society develops,” he added, “then both our groups might well be interested in co-sponsoring some debates.” Professor Michael C. Dorf, vice dean of Columbia Law School, will act as faculty adviser to the Madison group at his campus. He said his own involvement was sparked by Bush v. Gore, which he called “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in a series of rulings that subsumed the “substantive justice view” in favor of a more “property-oriented” outlook. “There’s a widespread perception that anyone who talks about substantive justice is a mush-head,” said Dorf. “The organization should be open to anyone who self-identifies as sharing the very broad goal of using the law as a vehicle to advance liberty and equality. “That should include members of both political parties,” he added. Marian L. Engleman Lado, general counsel for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, will be among the New York civil rights practitioners at the Madison Society’s first national meeting on July 30 in Washington, D.C. Scheduled speakers include former Attorney General Janet Reno, former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Abner Mikva, and Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School. (Details are available at the Madison Web site, www.madisonsociety.org.) Like Professor Dorf, Engleman Lado was energized by Bush v. Gore. “It wasn’t cloaked in the legitimacy that we would expect from the Court,” she said of the election ruling. “But one of the silver linings is that we’re all coming together across [liberal and progressive] groups.” Deborah Goldberg, deputy director of the Democracy Program at NYU’s Brennan Center, echoes Engleman Lado. “When I first came to Brennan, I thought what we really needed was a counterpart to the Federalist Society,” said Goldberg. “What we want is to make it clear that the vast majority of people in the United States believe [that] the most vulnerable people in our society deserve the same kind of respect and concern [in the courts] that the rich are getting.” It gives pause to some, however, that Madison was a rich man whose Virginia plantation was worked by the slaves he owned. “Some people don’t want to take the name Madison,” said Krasnikow. “But as long as there are people who want some lively, progressive debates, I think the name is secondary.” And what, after all, is in a name? President Madison was elected twice, in 1808 and 1812, each time as the candidate of the Democractic-Republican party.

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