So every blogger and her mother has already reacted to this Randy Cohen column, in which a large law firm lawyer inquires about the propriety of rejecting applicants based on their Federalist Society memberships. Some scattered thoughts:
1)This may simply reflect my genetic lack of capacity for outrage, but it seems a bit twee to get the vapors over non-meritocratic factors playing a role in hiring. Though my mind reading may be off here, I suspect I owe current gainful employment in part to having studied art history in college; I also suspect I secured a competitive internship partially because the interviewer had ties to Georgia. My luck's probably cut the other way as well; see, e.g, several large law firm interviews in which my interest in art history and total lack of interest in sports led to precisely the opposite outcomes. Nobody feels particular outrage about discrimination against my competitors who studied German majors or came from Tennessee; rather, pretty much everyone accepts that sometimes non-strictly-meritocratic considerations influence hiring. Is that really so objectionable?
2)Per the above, I don't think it actually hurts law students to disclose Fed Soc membership. I think it helped me at the margin in some instances, and I probably wouldn't want to work anywhere where it would have hurt me anyway. Amber has an interesting post up in which she indicates that disclosing Fed Soc membership led to worse results for her. Choice of market may explain the difference in perspectives; there are enough conservatives in Atlanta that nobody there seemed to get much worked up over Fed Soc on my resume. (I did draw Atlanta lawyers who seemed to think I was on the left based on my descriptions of summer work at a libertarian public interest law firm. But that's another story...)
I've also met too many law students and young lawyers who want to be all things to all people. I had acquaintances who scrubbed their Facebook profiles of lists of favorite TV shows including "Lost" because they were worried about how interviewers might judge them for it. Others sanctimoniously made a point of drinking lightly at law school parties because they were worried about what their "future professional colleagues will think of them." See generally this website for more examples like the above. While others' mileage may vary, I've always viewed listing Fed Soc as a small step against degenerating into this kind of snivelling neurotic.
3)I do disagree that Fed Soc isn't a big tent. Yeah, there are people with annoying big-government theocratic tendencies, and I do wish that they had less influence over the organization. But there's plenty of space on the continuum between my arch-libertarian self and big-government theocracy, and most Federalists I've met fall somewhere in the middle of it. In some cases, this may be generational -- social norms are sticky, and fifty-five-year-olds probably have a harder time seeing the case for gay marriage than I do. I'm inclined to cut them slack for it.
Specifically libertarian, not-especially-socially-conservative organizations also do seem to value Fed Soc membership in law clerk or entry-level-attorney hiring. I'd discourage libertarians from fleeing also for that reason.