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Steven Teles’s book, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, is a case study of ideological challenge. Teles, a political scientist, emphasizes the institutional dimensions of such challenges. Relying on interviews and internal documents produced by conservative organizations, he examines the development of conservative litigating groups (i.e., conservative public interest law firms), the growth of the Federalist Society, and the embedding of law and economics within the legal academy. There have been similar studies of liberal public interest law firms and of the rise of liberal legalism in the academy, but Teles’s is the first to look on the other side of the ideological divide. And, given the dominance of liberal legal ideology, his analysis brings out in sharp relief many new insights into the institutions that affect the outcomes of ideological contests. In addition, Teles connects his analysis to a broader theme in recent studies of American political development. The rise of the conservative legal movement was intimately connected to changes in the dominant political order that have occurred over the past thirty years: the decay of the New Deal-Great Society political order, and the Reagan Revolution and its limits. In these ways Teles provides a firm foundation for thinking (or perhaps merely speculating) about future developments in the institutional apparatuses associated with conservative and liberal legal thought.
This Review summarizes and critiques Teles’s analysis of the three components of the conservative legal movement, beginning with the least important, law and economics in the legal academy, and then turning to conservative public interest law firms and the Federalist Society. It concludes with some speculations about the future of that movement, in light of the connection Teles rightly draws between that movement and the American political regime of the late twentieth century.
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To read a related Situationist post, see “Deep Capture – Part X.”