Whomever is nominated to replace Justice O'Connor, attention will once again be focused on whether the nominee has been a member of, or otherwise affiliated with, the Federalist Society. As has been noted several times on this blog, membership in the Federalist Society tells you nothing about a nominee's political or legal ideology, except that his views are very likely right of the legal center, which of course is a given for a Bush nominee. I thought I'd back up that contention with something more specific, namely my recollection of the general political views of students who were active in the Federalist Society in my Yale graduation class (1991):
(1) Three mainstream conservatives, all of whom had a religious element to their views; (2) One neoconservative (from a prominent neoconservative family); (3) One somewhat militantly atheistic libertarian; (4) One Objectivist; (5) A moderate, pro-life Democrat (who later became a pro-life libertarian anarchist); (6) One culturally liberal (so much so that my classmates would ask her how she could stand hanging out with those "right-wingers"), but politically very libertarian student; (7) Me
Fellow travelers included a couple of libertarian-conservative Mormons influenced in part by a Professor Reynolds at BYU, a few moderately conservative students, and others whom I'm probably forgetting.
As should be pretty obvious from this list, it would be impossible to accurately predict where a Yale Federalist would have stood on a host of social, political, and foreign policy issues based solely on the mere fact of his Federalist membership. It would be even less feasible to try to predict where a Yale Federalist would have stood on particular legal controversies. (I specifically recall a rather surprising dinner discussion of the flag-burning case, in which every Federalist in attendance--fifteen or so, including some very staunch conservatives--thought that flag-burning was protected by the First Amendment, despite four votes in the Supreme Court to the contrary, including Stevens).
Nothing I've seen since then suggests that the Federalist Society is any less of a "big tent" for the legal right-of-center than it was then, or that Yale was especially unusual in Federalist Society circles in having such a wide range of views represented.
So, when President Bush nominates an O'Connor replacement, let's have a full and vigorous discussion of the nominees' legal views. But let's stop with the "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Federalist Society" nonsense.