Kavanaugh is the product of a community. He is the product of a conservative legal infrastructure that develops ideas, recruits talent, links rising stars, nurtures genius, molds and launches judicial nominees. It almost doesn’t matter which Republican is president. The conservative legal infrastructure is the entity driving the whole project. It almost doesn’t even matter if Kavanaugh is confirmed or shot down; there are dozens more who can fill the vacancy, just as smart and just as conservative.
This community didn’t just happen; it was self-consciously built. If you want to understand how to permanently change the political landscape, it’s a good idea to study and be inspired how it was done.
Back in the 1970s, the legal establishment was liberal. Yale Law School was the dynamic center of liberal legal thinking. Lawyers who had begun their careers during the New Deal were at the height of their power and prestige. The Ford Foundation funded a series of legal aid organizations to advance liberal causes and to dominate the law schools.
.. Business groups funded a series of conservative public interest law firms. But the business groups had no intellectual heft, they were opportunistic and they had zero moral appeal.
.. First came the critique. In 1980, Michael Horowitz wrote a seminal report for the Sarah Scaife Foundation, explaining why conservatives were impotent in the legal sphere. Horowitz suggested, for example, that conservative legal organizations pick cases in which they represented underdogs against big institutions associated with the left.
.. Then came the intellectual entrepreneurs. Aaron Director of the University of Chicago Law School inspired many of the thinkers — like Ronald Coase and Richard Posner — who would create the law and economics movement.
.. This movement was funded by groups like the John M. Olin Foundation, which was willing to invest for the long term and not worry about “metrics” or “measurable outcomes.”
.. Then came the network entrepreneurs. In 1982, a group of law students including Lee Liberman Otis, David McIntosh and Steven Calabresi founded the Federalist Society, which was fundamentally a debating society.
.. The Federalist Society spread to other law schools and beyond pretty quickly. It turned into a friendship community and a professional network, identifying conservative law students who could be promoted to fill clerkships.
.. the key features of the Federalist Society were the limits it would put on itself. It did not take stands on specific policy issues. It did not sponsor litigation on behalf of favorite causes. It did not rate judicial nominees the way the American Bar Association did.
.. Otis, McIntosh and Calabresi all went to work in the Reagan administration. They are now part of a vast army of conservative legal cadres, several generations deep, working throughout the system or at organizations like the Center for Individual Rights and the Institute for Justice.
.. Trump bucked the conservative foreign policy establishment and the conservative economic establishment, but he’s given the conservative legal establishment more power than ever before, which is why there are so few never-Trumpers in legal circles.
.. The members often break down on libertarian versus conservative lines, or, as we saw in the behind the scenes jockeying recently, between social conservatives (for Amy Coney Barrett) and establishment conservatives (for Brett Kavanaugh).