President Bush and Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito spoke at last night’s Federalist Society black tie gala celebrating the society’s 25th anniversary.
Bush was received warmly by the large audience of about 1700, most of whom were lawyers, judges and law students dining in the elegantly-transformed Washington DC Union Station corridor. He spoke mainly of the process of confirming judicial nominee’s scolding the Senate for failing to act on many of his candidates.
“Our Constitution prohibits a religious test for any federal office, yet when people imply that a nominee is unfit for the bench because of the church where he worships, we lose something,” the President said.
Taking on the liberal American Bar Association, Mr. Bush said, “When a bar association issues what it claims are objective ratings about a nominee’s professional qualifications, yet suddenly and without explanation, lowers the rating of a nominee on the eve of his confirmation hearing, we lose something.”
Referring to confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito in January 2006, Bush said “when the wife of a distinguished jurist proudly attends his hearing and is brought to tears by ugly and unfounded insinuations that her husband is secretly a bigot, we lose something.”
Speaking for 20 minutes Bush was interrupted by applause and cheers from the conservative audience however even more popular was Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Thomas was greeted with a long standing ovation to which he responded modestly and wide-eyed joking that perhaps he should quit while he is ahead.
During a questions and answer session Thomas said "We’re doing great damage. I fear how much damage we will do to our judiciary over time," referring to the same partisanship that Bush scolded the Senate for in his speech. When asked if Thomas could have anticipated the battle of his own nomination he would have still preceded, he answered “Yes, what is the alternative. You have a duty to do so.”
The Federalist Society 25th anniversary was commemorated best through the words of Justice Scalia when he said "We thought we were just planting a wildflower among the weeds of academic liberalism and it turned out to be an oak." Scalia, once a professor at the University of Chicago was one of the group’s first faculty advisors.
The Federalist Society, a student organization, was founded in 1982 and has become an outlet for some of the best conservative legal minds in the country. The society currently has chapters in 180 US law schools and 42’000 members.