Build­ing vil­lage that raised Ka­vanaugh took decades

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - David Brooks He writes for the New York Times.

In the weeks ahead, we’re go­ing to spend a lot of time go­ing over Brett Ka­vanaugh’s bi­og­ra­phy — where he’s from and what he’s writ­ten. But that’s not the most im­por­tant way to un­der­stand the guy.

Ka­vanaugh is the prod­uct of a com­mu­nity. He is the prod­uct of a con­ser­va­tive le­gal in­fra­struc­ture that de­vel­ops ideas, re­cruits talent, links ris­ing stars, nur­tures ge­nius, molds and launches ju­di­cial nom­i­nees. It al­most doesn’t mat­ter which Repub­li­can is pres­i­dent. The con­ser­va­tive le­gal in­fra­struc­ture is the en­tity driv­ing the whole project. It al­most doesn’t even mat­ter if this per­son is con­firmed or shot down; there are dozens more who can fill the va­cancy, just as smart and just as con­ser­va­tive.

This com­mu­nity didn’t just hap­pen; it was self-con­sciously built. If you want to un­der­stand how to per­ma­nently change the po­lit­i­cal land­scape, it’s a good idea to study and be in­spired how it was done.

Back in the 1970s, the le­gal es­tab­lish­ment was lib­eral. Yale Law School was the dy­namic cen­ter of lib­eral le­gal think­ing. Lawyers who had be­gun their ca­reers dur­ing the New Deal were at the height of their power and pres­tige.

As Steven Te­les notes in “The Rise of the Con­ser­va­tive Le­gal Move­ment,” the first con­ser­va­tive ef­forts to stand up to the left failed. Busi­ness groups funded a se­ries of con­ser­va­tive public in­ter­est law firms. But the busi­ness groups had no in­tel­lec­tual heft, they were op­por­tunis­tic and they had zero mo­ral ap­peal.”

Then things be­gan to turn around.

First came the cri­tique. In 1980, Michael Horowitz wrote a sem­i­nal re­port for the Sarah Scaife Foun­da­tion, ex­plain­ing why con­ser­va­tives were impotent in the le­gal sphere. Horowitz sug­gested, for ex­am­ple, that con­ser­va­tive le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tions pick cases in which they rep­re­sented un­der­dogs against big in­sti­tu­tions as­so­ci­ated with the left.

Then came the in­tel­lec­tual en­trepreneurs. Aaron Di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School in­spired many of the thinkers — like Ron­ald Coase and Richard Pos­ner — who would cre­ate the law and eco­nomics move­ment.

Then came the net­work en­trepreneurs. In 1982, a group of law stu­dents in­clud­ing Lee Liber­man Otis, David McIntosh and Steven Cal­abresi founded the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety, which was fun­da­men­tally a de­bat­ing so­ci­ety.

The Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety spread to other law schools and be­yond pretty quickly. It turned into a friend­ship com­mu­nity and a pro­fes­sional net­work, iden­ti­fy­ing con­ser­va­tive law stu­dents who could be pro­moted to fill clerk­ships.

Otis, McIntosh and Cal­abresi all went to work in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion. They are now part of a vast army of con­ser­va­tive le­gal cadres, sev­eral gen­er­a­tions deep, work­ing through­out the sys­tem.

The con­ser­va­tive le­gal es­tab­lish­ment is fully ma­ture. Trump’s given the con­ser­va­tive le­gal es­tab­lish­ment more power than ever be­fore.

The peo­ple who built the con­ser­va­tive le­gal es­tab­lish­ment built a com­mu­nity over sev­eral decades — with deep roots and strong fra­ter­nal and pro­fes­sional bonds.

It’s a les­son for every­body. If you em­pha­size pro­fes­sional ex­cel­lence first, if you gain a foothold in so­ci­ety’s main­stream in­sti­tu­tions, if you build a co­he­sive band of broth­ers and sis­ters, you can trans­form the land­scape of your field.

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