The Federalist Society has been showing its influence over the U.S. legal system for years, especially with six of the nine current U.S. Supreme Court justices as members. Now another member, Aileen M. Cannon, has granted Donald Trump a special master in the Mar-a-Lago case.
Cannon, a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Florida, addressed her involvement with the Federalist Society in written responses to U.S. senators during her nomination process, as described below.
On its website, the Federalist Society calls itself a “group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order.” The Washington Post reports that the society was a major adviser on Trump’s judicial nomination. Politico Magazine called the group “one of the most influential legal organizations in history — not only shaping law students’ thinking but changing American society itself by deliberately, diligently shifting the country’s judiciary to the right.”
Aileen M. Cannon joined the Federalist Society in 2005 but denied familiarity with of some of its stated political views.
In her responses to senators’ questions, Cannon explained that she joined the Federalist Society in 2005 while studying at the University of Michigan Law School. “I did so because I enjoyed the diversity of legal viewpoints discussed at Federalist Society meetings and events,” she wrote. “I also found interesting the organization’s discussions about the constitutional separation of powers, the rule of law, and the limited role of the judiciary to say what the law is — not to make the law.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) asked Cannon about the Federalist Society’s online mission statement, which claims that law schools and the legal profession are “strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology.” The statement also asserts that the Federalist Society’s goals include “reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”
Across three questions to Cannon, Feinstein asked the judge to elaborate on the society’s notion of a dominating “form of orthodox liberal ideology,” to explain how the society seeks to “[reorder] priorities within the system,” and to describe the “traditional values” that the society prizes. Cannon had the same response to all three questions: “I am not familiar with this statement, and I do not know what the Federalist Society meant by it.”
Donald Trump is also the president who appointed Cannon as federal judge.
Trump nominated Cannon to serve as a U.S. district judge in May 2020, and the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination that November, after Trump lost his presidential re-election bid, as The New York Times recaps. Cannon is one of more than 200 federal judges appointed by Trump, who also nominated three of the current Supreme Court justices.
Former Senator Russ Feingold, now the president of the liberal American Constitution Society, said in a statement that Trump and his GOP senator allies showed “overwhelming preference” for judicial nominees who often lacked the experience “previously considered necessary to sit on the bench, according to the Post.
“We’re now seeing the impact of this, with an alarming disregard of the rule of law by some,” Feingold added.