Fed­er­alist Society members with U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Barrett. Abigail Allen | Courtesy

Three years ago, senior Anna Perry saw the need for a pre-law club on Hillsdale College’s campus. During this same time period, Justice Brian Zahra — who serves on the Michigan Supreme Court — approached College Pres­ident Larry Arnn and Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy and Religion Nathan Schlueter about estab­lishing a Fed­er­alist Society on Hillsdale’s campus.

In November 2016, Hillsdale became the second under­graduate program to have a Fed­er­alist Society on campus. Schlueter, the director of the pre-law program and adviser for the chapter, said he loves that Hillsdale has a Fed­er­alist Society.

“It’s a great honor at Hillsdale College, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Schlueter said. “It’s really a great oppor­tunity for our stu­dents at the college.”

According to its website, the Fed­er­alist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies was founded in 1982 and is made up of con­ser­v­a­tives and lib­er­tarians ded­i­cated to reforming the current legal order. The society is a mem­bership orga­ni­zation that fea­tures a student division, a lawyers division, and a faculty division.

Exec­utive Vice Pres­ident of the Fed­er­alist Society Leonard Leo said the Fed­er­alist Society creates an envi­ronment where people can gain a deeper appre­ci­ation for the United States’ con­sti­tu­tional system and the ways it con­tributes to freedom and well-being.  

“It’s very valuable to have informed, civil, and rea­sonable debates about the impor­tance of the rule of law in terms of pro­tecting the freedom and dignity of all people,” Leo said. “The Fed­er­alist Society pro­vides a unique forum that does all of those things.”

Schlueter said that Leo is credited with selecting most of Pres­ident Donald Trump’s court appointees.

“Leo is the head of our society and we have that asso­ci­ation on campus,” Schlueter said. “That’s a pow­erful con­nection.”

Today, only three under­graduate pro­grams have Fed­er­alist Society chapters. Rice Uni­versity started its chapter in 2013, fol­lowed by Hillsdale College in 2016, and Princeton Uni­versity in 2018.

Leo said most uni­ver­sities and col­leges with law schools have Fed­er­alist Society chapters, and the under­graduate stu­dents can par­tic­ipate in the law school’s chapter activ­ities.

“At some uni­ver­sities that’s a very extensive col­lab­o­ration and some it’s less so,” Leo said. “It all just depends on the uni­versity com­munity.”

Prior to starting a Fed­er­alist Society on campus, Leo said the senior man­agement looks at the program’s pro­posal.

“The senior man­agement of the orga­ni­zation decides whether it’s worth pur­suing based on potential effec­tiveness and demand,” Leo said. “It’s not a matter that the board of directors has to vote on.”

Vice Pres­ident and General Counsel of Hillsdale College Robert Norton — who has served on the lit­i­gation exec­utive com­mittee of the Fed­er­alist Society — said it was a logical step for Hillsdale to have a Fed­er­alist Society chapter.

“If there was a college worthy of some des­ig­nation of being an out­standing potential Fed­er­alist undergrad, Hillsdale College stood head and shoulders above other choices,” Norton said.

He also said Hillsdale’s rep­u­tation con­tinues to grow in the legal field.

“We know more about the Con­sti­tution, and our stu­dents are taught through the Socratic method,” Norton said. “They are excellent writers. They’re taught to think crit­i­cally and read and write well.”

Perry, who was the first pres­ident of Hillsdale’s Fed­er­alist Society said the chapter’s first event included attending the Agraino Award Dinner for the Michigan Lawyers Chapter of the Fed­er­alist Society in November 2016.

“They host a big award dinner once a year to honor a rep­utable and important member of the society who’s done good work,” Perry said. “Justice Zahra was the person getting the award that year.”

After helping Hillsdale start its Fed­er­alist Society, Zahra bought a table for 10 Hillsdale stu­dents to attend the dinner and be rec­og­nized. Perry said she and the other stu­dents net­worked with appellate judges, federal judges, and Michigan Supreme Court judges.

“We took a picture with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen,” Perry said. “She was one of Trump’s short list nom­inees.”

Perry said the chapter began recruitment in 2017, which was dif­ficult because it was the middle of the year. At its first meeting, Perry said about 75 stu­dents showed up.

Since 2016, the chapter has col­lab­o­rated with Hillsdale’s Career Ser­vices to bring in speakers and people to help stu­dents preparing for the LSAT.

“Our main campus presence, even for people who aren’t going to law school, comes from speakers that we’ve had,” Perry said.

One thing Perry has learned in the past couple of years is that she can tell the speakers to give a graduate-level pre­sen­tation because Hillsdale stu­dents already have a strong foun­dation in under­standing the Western tra­dition.

“We don’t realize how blessed we are to have the classes that we do,” Perry said. “We can go deeper into really tech­nical, legal, or philo­sophical things because our stu­dents are at a level where they can under­stand these prin­ciples.”

Abigail Allen, the Hillsdale chapter’s former vice pres­ident, said the Fed­er­alist Society has given her the oppor­tunity to build a strong network with other members.

“I was able to gain a lot of advice from all the dif­ferent people who I was able to interact with through the Fed­er­alist Society,” Allen said. “There’s a huge number of Hillsdale alumni who have gone to law school, who have worked with the Fed­er­alist Society, and who want to come back and help us. They’ve been great.”

Allen will be attending the Uni­versity of Notre Dame Law School this fall. She said the network she has built within the Fed­er­alist Society has given her con­fi­dence going into law school.

“I have a network of people to support me in my career,” Allen said. “It’s very reas­suring to be able to build that network as an under­graduate and be able to choose a law school in light of what I know.”

Last spring, Allen invited U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Barrett, a pro­fessor at Notre Dame Law School, to Hillsdale’s campus. Allen and a couple of other stu­dents had dinner with Barrett and dis­cussed life, law, and ethics.

“When I started looking at law schools more seri­ously, her influence and her ability to explain her expe­ri­ences at Notre Dame were really helpful,” Allen said.  

Allen also said the study groups and various speakers helped prepare her for the LSAT.

For example, the Fed­er­alist Society teamed up with Career Ser­vices to bring in Josiah Kollmeyer ’14, who earned a perfect score on his LSAT and attended Harvard Uni­versity Law School. Kollmeyer gave stu­dents advice to prepare for the LSAT.

The Fed­er­alist Society also brought in Daniel Cody ’18 who shared his 12-week LSAT study program with stu­dents.

In addition to bringing in alumni, the Fed­er­alist Society also held a series called, “What Can You do With a Law Degree.”

“We brought in job lawyers, intel­lectual property lawyers, tra­di­tional firm lawyers, people in academia with a law degree, and people in Council,” Perry said.

Perry said she will be taking two years off before applying to law schools because she is getting married to her fiance who cur­rently lives in Dallas. She has learned about job oppor­tu­nities in Dallas through the con­nec­tions she estab­lished through the Fed­er­alist Society.

“We had Clark Neily come in to talk about how the criminal justice system worked,” Perry said. “Now I’m looking at jobs in the dis­trict attorney’s office in Dallas, because I had no idea that the criminal justice system is the way it is.”  

Perry, an eco­nomics major, said she learned about how eco­nomics and incen­tives are involved in the criminal justice system.

“The Fed­er­alist Society exposed me to ideas that made me think about things,” Perry said. “Just being involved has made me think about things more than ever.”

One obser­vation Perry had about the Fed­er­alist Society at Hillsdale com­pared to other cam­puses is that it does not face push back from the admin­is­tration.

“We don’t have any debates that are that heated because we’re not going to find a faculty member who’s an opponent of some­thing one of our speakers talks about,” Perry said.  

Blake Dela­plane started the Fed­er­alist Society at Rice Uni­versity as a junior and said the first event the chapter held was met with resis­tance. The new chapter invited Charles Murray to speak about the true meaning of free speech on campus.

“We heard the school admin­is­tration was pro­viding sup­plies, free of charge, to pro­testers who were going to protest the event,” Dela­plane said. “The day of the event, we had police every­where. We had a packed audi­torium, over 230 people. And then we had another 35 pro­testers outside, and here was heckling at the event.”

Dela­plane said the event shook the Rice under­graduate campus.

“People began to think, ‘What does it actually mean to allow someone to speak on an issue I don’t agree with? Is this a place that is just an incu­bator for group think, or is it a place that is going to encourage intel­lectual curiosity and risk taking, and honesty,’” Dela­plane said.

After the event, Dela­plane said the chapter didn’t fade because of strong lead­ership and showing respect toward the admin­is­tration at Rice.

“The key to making these groups suc­cessful is focusing their lead­ership on char­acter,” Dela­plane said.

Schlueter said the atmos­phere at Hillsdale has fos­tered success within the Fed­er­alist Society.

“We’ve had success in getting stu­dents in at top law schools,” Schlueter said. “And those stu­dents have been suc­cessful at law schools.”

In addition to success at top law schools, Schlueter said more Hillsdale grad­uates clerk on the Supreme Court than the vast majority of law schools.

“The truth about a law school edu­cation is that nothing pre­pares you better than a liberal arts edu­cation because of the kinds of skills you need to know: close and careful textual reading, analysis, inter­pre­tation, and argument,” Schlueter said. “And that’s what we’re doing in the core anyhow.”

Norton said Arnn’s approach to edu­cation holds stu­dents to a high standard of excel­lence. This expec­tation, he said, allows stu­dents to succeed at dif­ficult law schools and earn high posi­tions in the legal field.  

“Hillsdale grad­uates are known to be deep thinkers, honest indi­viduals, and people who have high integrity,” Norton said. “And I think that’s what really has caused people to say, ‘There’s some­thing dif­ferent about the stu­dents at Hillsdale.’”