It’s the largest gathering of top conservative legal minds in the world — and it may offer a preview of the United States newest Supreme Court justice.
Two current Supreme Court justices and nine judges on President-elect Donald Trump’s list of potential high court picks are among more than 1,000 people expected at a gathering of conservative lawyers that has suddenly turned into an impromptu job fair for spots in the new administration.
The Federalist Society’s national lawyers’ convention begins Thursday in Washington as a tribute to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, an early supporter of the group and a hero to many of its 40,000 members.
But since Trump’s surprising victory in last week’s presidential race, the meeting has turned into a public audition of sorts for nearly half of the list of 21 people that Trump put forward earlier in the year as prospective Supreme Court nominees.
“The mood has changed. Everyone is going to be thinking, ‘Maybe someone here is going to be filling Justice Scalia’s shoes,’ ” said Abbe Gluck, a Yale Law professor who is not a member of the group but who will take part in the conference.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, familiar figures at these annual meetings, also will speak on Thursday.
The Federalist Society got its start on college campuses when Ronald Reagan was in the White House as a way to counter what its members saw as liberal domination of the nation’s law-school faculties. Its influence was pronounced during the presidency of George W. Bush, when its leaders helped rally support for Senate confirmation of Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. The group was so successful that it spawned copycat liberal organizations.
Speaking at a Federalist Society event in the Bush years was akin to an out-of-town preview of a Broadway show for conservative lawyers who were looking for administration jobs or judgeships, author Mark Tushnet has written.
Over the past eight years, the group provided a forum for opponents of President Barack Obama’s court choices and policies, although the Federalist Society itself does not endorse candidates or take policy positions. Some of its leaders backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat. That political strategy paid unexpected and huge dividends for conservatives with Trump’s election.
The society’s star again appears to be on the rise. “Anytime there’s a major shift in the power of government, it’s an enormous opportunity for what is probably the collection of the smartest, most talented and most publicly minded lawyers in the country to roll up their sleeves and help advance the cause of constitutional government,” said Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society’s executive vice president.
Leo met with Trump in New York on Wednesday and said afterward that Trump has yet to pare down his long list of names of Supreme Court hopefuls.
Among those candidates are nine who will take part in panel discussions in the next few days: state supreme court justices Allison Eid of Colorado, Joan Larsen of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota and Don Willett of Texas, and federal appellate judges Steven Colloton, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge, William Pryor and Diane Sykes.
Keith Blackwell is a justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. He was appointed to the position in 2012. He had previously served on the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Before serving on the bench, Justice Blackwell was a Deputy Special Attorney General of the State of Georgia, an Assistant District Attorney in Cobb County, and a commercial litigator in private practice. Justice Blackwell is a graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law.
Charles Canady is a justice of the Supreme Court of Florida. He has served in that role since 2008, and he served as the court’s chief justice from 2010 to 2012. Prior to his appointment, Justice Canady served as a judge of the Florida Second District Court of Appeal and as a member of the United States House of Representatives for four terms. Justice Canady is a graduate of Yale Law School.
Neil Gorsuch is a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He was appointed to the position in 2006. Judge Gorsuch previously served in the Justice Department as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Judge Gorsuch was a Marshall Scholar and received his law degree from Harvard. He clerked for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
Mike Lee is the Junior U.S. Senator from Utah and currently serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Utah and as a Supreme Court Clerk for Justice Alito.
Edward Mansfield is a justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. He was appointed to the court in 2011 and retained by voters in 2012. Justice Mansfield previously served as a judge of the Iowa Court of Appeals. He also teaches law at Drake University as an adjunct professor. Justice Mansfield is a graduate of Yale Law School.
Federico Moreno is a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida and a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States. He previously served as a state and county court judge in Florida. Judge Moreno is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law.
Margaret A. Ryan has been a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces since 2006. Judge Ryan served in the Marine Corps through deployments in the Philippines and the Gulf War. She then attended Notre Dame Law School through a military scholarship and served as a JAG officer for four years. Judge Ryan clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit and Justice Clarence Thomas.
Amul Thapar is a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, serving since his appointment in 2007, when he became the first South Asian Article III judge. He has taught law students at the University of Cincinnati and Georgetown. Judge Thapar has served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. and the Southern District of Ohio. Immediately prior to his judicial appointment, Judge Thapar was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Judge Thapar received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
Timothy Tymkovich is the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Judge Tymkovich was appointed to the bench in 2003. He previously served as Colorado Solicitor General. Judge Tymkovich is a graduate of the University of Colorado College of Law.
Robert Young is the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan. He was appointed to the court in 1999, and became part of a majority of justices who embraced originalism and led what one scholar described as a “textualism revolution.” Justice Young previously served as a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals. Chief Justice Young is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
The full list of the twenty-one individuals Mr. Trump will consider is below:
1. Keith Blackwell
2. Charles Canady
3. Steven Colloton
4. Allison Eid
5. Neil Gorsuch
6. Raymond Gruender
7. Thomas Hardiman
8. Raymond Kethledge
9. Joan Larsen
10. Mike Lee
11. Thomas Lee
12. Edward Mansfield
13. Federico Moreno
14. William Pryor
15. Margaret A. Ryan
16. Amul Thapar
17. Timothy Tymkovich
18. David Stras
19. Diane Sykes
20. Don Willett
21. Robert Young
The Associated Press contributed to this article