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Takeover: How a Conservative Student Club Captured the Supreme Court

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The story of how a group of Republican law students started a club that grew to become the most influential legal organization in US history.

With the addition of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, six of the nine sitting Supreme Court Justices are current or former members of a conservative legal organization called the Federalist Society. In TAKEOVER: How a Conservative Student Club Captured the Supreme Court, Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman and Lidia Jean Kott explore the rise of the most influential legal organization in U.S. history.

Beginning in the early 1980s, when it was not exactly ‘cool’ to be a conservative law student, a small group of students started a club, named in honor of The Federalist Papers, where they could safely discuss their right-of-center views. They asked Antonin Scalia, then a professor at University of Chicago, to be their advisor and got to work advocating for an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Over the past 40 years, members of the organization have included Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Ted Cruz, Orrin Hatch, and Josh Hawley, among many other prominent politicians, public servants, and elected officials. 

Feldman and Kott, a producer on his Deep Background podcast, take listeners into the offices and chambers of the people who know the Federalist Society best, including founding member and current Senior Vice President Lee Liberman Otis, as well as judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Michael McConnell and Jeffrey Sutton. 

Using archival tape to provide historical context as well as interviews with current and former members, TAKEOVER illuminates how this student club has influenced many tenets of our country, from the war against the Affordable Care Act, to swinging the highest court in the land decidedly to the right and even swaying the most important elections in our democracy.

Cover design by Strick & Williams Cover images: Eagle illustration by Michael Halbert Scarf © Tetiana Rozhnovska |Dreamstime.comGavel © Judith Collins / Alamy Stock Photo

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