If you want to understand the systematic nature of the right's takeover of American public life, consider the Federalist Society. During the first Bush presidency and less than a decade after its founding in 1982, the society had already gained control of the process of vetting federal judicial appointees. By 2001 the Federalists were so dominant that George W. Bush simply eliminated the longstanding role in the evaluation of prospective judges by the resolutely centrist American Bar Association (ABA), whose ratings had long kept extremists and incompetents off the bench. Today the Federalists have more influence in judicial-selection than the ABA ever had.
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies was begun by a small group of radically conservative University of Chicago law students--Steven Calabresi, David McIntosh and Lee Liberman Otis--who had been undergraduates together at Yale University. Harvard law student and future U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), who started a Harvard University chapter, later joined them. Edwin Meese, who had been Ronald Reagan's attorney general, was an early sponsor.
Much of the society's leadership consists of formidable, active politicians (Utah's Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is co-chair), important right-wing organizations (the American Enterprise Institute) and judicial voices (former Solicitor General Robert Bork and current Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). Former Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh wrote during the first Bush administration that he was especially troubled by one of White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray's assistant's open declaration that no one who was not a member of the Federalist Society had received a presidential judicial appointment from President George Bush Senior. In both Bush administrations, judicial appointments have been coordinated by the office of the counsel to the president, a staff composed nearly entirely of Federalists and their allies, people who consider Chief Justice William Rehnquist too moderate.
With seed money from the Institute for Educational Affairs (then headed by neoconservatives Irving Kristol and the late William E. Simon) and millions of dollars over the years from the Lynde and Harry Bradley, John M. Olin, Sarah Scaife, Charles Koch and Castle Rock foundations, the Federalist Society grew quickly. The Federalists targeted …