Even after the school year has ended, the UB School of Law’s chapter of the Federalist Society is still planning events.
It has been that kind of year for the group, which comprises conservative and libertarian students and promotes an originalist view of the U.S. Constitution. A very active year, that is, and one that featured some big names in conservative jurisprudence coming to O’Brian Hall.
In today’s politically polarized society, you might expect pushback on some of these issues. But, says Jonathan Francisco ’20, who’s completing his term as the group’s president, the UB law community has welcomed forthright discussion.
“I talk to other student chapter presidents across the country, and they’ve had nowhere near the reception we’ve had at UB,” Francisco says. “The support and encouragement from the staff has been tremendous. That’s really why I’m thrilled we’ve had the year we’ve had. My hope is that future generations of law students will keep it going strong and continue to encourage civil debate and discussion from all sides of the ideological spectrum.”
Professor S. Todd Brown, vice dean for academic affairs, is the group’s faculty adviser. “I can’t stress enough how important it was to have someone like Jonathan bring the Federalist Society back to UB law and bring it back in a way that promotes discourse. He was absolutely the spark plug,” Brown says.
“It’s challenging today because, whatever your point of view, it’s easy to find some echo chamber somewhere. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not really engaging, you’re just preaching to the choir. The point of having a law school is to engage not only with people who are like-minded but also with people who have very different perspectives. If you don’t, you’re not really testing your own ideas. It’s a valuable role in our community.”
The respectful exchange of ideas is central to the focus of the group’s incoming president, Daniel Caves ’21. “I am thrilled to be filling Jonathan’s admittedly large shoes as chapter president, and I relish the challenge. As an older student who has been following politics since the early 2000s, I have witnessed the slow death of nuance in our discourse. I was partly drawn to the law because it is one of nuance’s last strongholds,” Caves says.
“Since lawyers are on the frontline of nuanced disagreement, we hope to highlight that on campus and host programs that model healthy, genuine disagreements throughout the upcoming academic year. A republic of laws only works when the lawyers still respect each other as colleagues at the end of the day, even after zealously advocating for their viewpoints as adversaries.”
The Federalist Society is wrapping up the year with a May 19 Zoom discussion of the provocative documentary They Say It Can’t Be Done. The film looks at cutting-edge developments in four areas of technology – cultured meat, 3-D printed organs, aquaculture and carbon capture – and how the vast body of regulations generated by federal agencies is hampering progress in those areas.
Attendees are encouraged to watch the documentary in advance. The May 19 panel will include UB Law Professors Matthew Steilen and Anya Bernstein, as well as the film’s producer, Patrick Reasonover; Professor Gregory McNeal of Pepperdine University; and Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University.
The discussion bookends a year that started just weeks into the fall semester, with a well-attended Sept. 25 visit by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who represents the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.
That was followed by a visit on Oct. 1 and 2 by a distinguished U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Jeffrey S. Sutton, who sits on the Sixth Circuit court, based in Cincinnati. The judge’s scholarly interest in federalism was the backdrop for the event, which the Federalist Society co-sponsored with the UB Law chapter of the progressive American Constitution Society.
Sutton’s book 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press) argues that American constitutional law should recognize the role that state courts and state constitutions have in protecting individual liberties.
And on March 10, in one of the last in-person events before the University moved to an entirely online presence, the Federalist Society sponsored an appearance by Judge Richard Wesley, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York City. The judge has described himself as “conservative in nature, pragmatic at the same time, with a fair appreciation of judicial restraint.”