Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Justin Wedeking


This dissertation examines the Federalist Society, which is a network of conservative and libertarian attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. The organization was founded by law students at Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School in 1982, and has, over the last four decades, come to play a central role in law and politics in the United States. Individuals affiliated with the Federalist Society influence the law through a variety of avenues.

Federalist Society-members advance the goals of the conservative legal movement in a variety of capacities—by writing amicus curiae briefs providing the Supreme Court with legal arguments in favor of conservative decisions, by representing litigants in oral arguments before the Court, by working as law clerks for Supreme Court justices, and even by serving as Supreme Court justices themselves. In fact, six of the nine current justices of the Supreme Court are affiliated with the Federalist Society.

Despite the Federalist Society’s vast influence on law and politics in the United States today, little research on the network of conservative judges, attorneys, law professors, and law students exist. This dissertation is concerned chiefly with evaluating the influence of the Federalist Society.

Drawing from the literature on social movements, I begin by evaluating the sources of the network’s strength in law schools around the United States. I find support for the hypotheses that organizational strength is driven by both students (at the grassroots level) and law professors (at the elite level). Federalist Society student chapters are stronger when the law school has more conservative students, more efficacious students, more conservative law professors, more efficacious law professors, and when there is a larger ideological gap between a law school’s most conservative professors and either the law school’s average alum or the law school’s average professor.

Turning to evaluate the behavior of Federalist Society members on the Supreme Court—where members of the network have the most influence— I show that Federalist Society members who are justices on the Supreme Court are especially likely to vote conservatively on certain policy issues (e.g.; abortion, affirmative action, and campaign spending). And although they might be expected to be more likely than their Republican-nominated peers to vote in favor of the state’s position in cases in which one party is a state, the results suggest that Federalist Society members prioritize conservative voting over supporting the state’s position.

In the final empirical chapter, I leverage a survey experiment in which respondents were given vignettes about a then-upcoming Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, and evaluate how information about the composition of the expected majority coalition influences respondents’ support for court curbing measures. The results have important implications for public support of the Supreme Court. Additional analyses presented in this chapter also reveal previously unknown influence of an individual’s ideological polarization on support for broadly targeted and narrowly targeted court curbing measures. This is an important contribution to the literature on Supreme Court legitimacy and has important implications for the Court.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

University of Kentucky Department of Political Science

Endowed Doctoral Research and Travel Award, 2022

University of Kentucky Department of Political Science

S. Sydney and Margaret L. Ulmer Endowed Scholarship, 2022