WASHINGTON -- With the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush, Democrats and liberals -- usually one and the same -- are again fastening their attention on a national organization composed mainly of libertarian conservative lawyers and judges called the Federalist Society. The Society is not open solely to adepts of the law. Others too can join. I myself have been a member in good standing for some years and can report that the Society exerts no secret demands on its members. I have not had to learn any secret handshake or attend late-night meetings in any sacred groves. We learn no mumbo jumbo save for the usual legal terms known by many Americans, for instance, malum prohibitum , quid pro quo , dormio ergo sum .
Nonetheless, the Federalist Society fetches Democrats' curiosity and occasional indignation. Says Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the Duke Law School, "I only want the left to have its own Federalist Society." He is a man of the left, and I hope his aspirations will be realized. Such groups are vital to the life of the mind and to the commonweal, whether they adopt secret handshakes or wear funny hats as do the Shriners and the Elks.
The matter of the handshake has proved to be a particular sudorific for Democrats, along with the frequent incidence of Federalist Society members among the president's appointees to the judiciary. Applying his stethoscope to Judge Roberts, the Hon. Richard J. Durbin, Democratic minority whip, has observed, "As we try to monitor the legal DNA of President Bush's nominees, we find repeatedly the Federalist Society chromosome" -- another of the Hon. Durbin's literary flights! "Why is it," he asks, "that membership in the Federalist Society has become the secret handshake of the Bush nominees…?" I repeat: There is no handshake. What there is is an intelligent interest in the law.