This week, the Federalist Society
, an organization of 40,000 lawyers, law students, scholars, and other individuals "who believe and trust that individual citizens can make the best choices for themselves and society," hosted its 2010 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The event was attended by more than 1,000 conservatives and libertarians (mostly lawyers), and included speeches by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, political analyst Michael Barone, and a dinner featuring an interview of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, with Jan Crawford of CBS News.
Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) are scheduled to address the crowd on Friday.
This was the first public conservative event to be held since the 2010 midterm elections, which saw Republicans retake the House of Representatives. Having attended the event Thursday morning, it was clear to me that there was energy in the air.
Eugene Meyer, the Federalist Society's president, tells me that this week's event -- which included the group's big 25th anniversary dinner -- has drawn more attendees than any of the previous conferences.
"There is extra energy -- and the reason is because we've just come off an electoral cycle where -- for the first time I can remember -- there was an enormous amount of public discussion about Washington paying more attention to the Constitution," Executive Vice President Leonard Leo tells me.
Saying today's political mood reflects a "constitutional revival," Leo adds, "It's not often that you've got candidates like Mike Lee on the campaign stump talking about the commerce clause, talking about limits on government power, and citing the Constitution chapter and verse."
The crowd size is more impressive when you consider attendees are not hearing typical "red meat" conservative speeches. Most of the topics are fairly intellectual, although they do focus on timely issues, such as what Leo describes as "The Obama New Deal." Panel topics, for example, include the constitutionality of health care reform and EPA overreach. Former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray and attorney John Shu will also debate the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank Financial Services Reform Act.
"We're an organization about ideas," says Meyer, and "this town, if anything, underrates the importance of ideas as opposed to specific policy and political maneuverings."
But Meyer and Leo tell me the new-found excitement over constitutional issues hasn't just manifested itself by increased conference attendance. The Federalist Society hosts over 1,100 meetings a year on law school campuses, and Meyer says the group has seen a 15 percent jump in attendance this year. What is more, the energy has also translated to an increase in online activity. The Federalist Society now boasts more than 100,000 Facebook
fans (now defined as people who "Like" them), too.