Amanda Hollis-Brusky, associate professor of politics at Pomona College, has been awarded the 2016 C. Herman Pritchett award for her latest book, Ideas With Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution. The C. Herman Pritchett award is issued annually by the American Political Science Association to the best book on law and courts published in the year before.
“The significance of the award is huge,” Professor John Seery, chair of politics at Pomona, said. “The best presses get to nominate a book. The competition is fierce and the book that makes it to the top really is a gem.”
Ideas With Consequences is the first academic study on the Federalist Society, a conservative-libertarian legal organization.
The inspiration for Hollis-Brusky’s book stemmed from her work as a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley.
“The idea of this paper I was working on was the communities that help shape ambiguous provisions of the Constitution,” she said.
According to Hollis-Brusky, the Federalist Society originated in 1982 by students at law schools who felt stifled by the views of their professors in reading and interpreting the law. They formed the Federalist Society as a “much-needed space” for conservative and libertarian students to connect to professors with similar values across the country. What began as a small group of students has expanded into a full-fledged organization with over 40,000 members from various political fields. Three of the sitting Supreme Court justices, as well as former justice Antonin Scalia, are members of this society.
After hearing Hollis-Brusky present her paper, her American Politics advisor at Berkeley mentioned the Federalist Society as an interpretive community to study.
“No one had engaged [The Federalist Society] in a serious academic way, so I brought the sort of framework that I had been thinking about in graduate school to the Federalist Society—are they what one of these empirical, interpretive communities would be like?” Hollis-Brusky said. “My goal was to understand…what is this organization? Is it an interest group? Is it a think tank? Do we understand it in terms of these traditional boxes that American politics scholars like to use to understand influence? Or is it something else?”
Seery said Hollis-Brusky’s book has garnered praise from both liberal and conservative reviewers.
“It has won the best prize that the disciplinary association can bestow,” he said.
Hollis-Brusky also commented on her book being reviewed by publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.
“It was great attention for the book, but what I’m seeing happening now is that…it’s starting to get more of a scholarly reception. And that’s what I’ve always hoped for,” she said.
Ideas With Consequences is now being read in classrooms at Pomona and other colleges across the country. Hollis-Brusky hopes that reading her book will enable students to understand how judges and justices are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interpreting the constitution.
“It really takes a much larger movement to actually reshape or reframe the constitutional meaning,” she explained.
Seery commented that the success of Hollis-Brusky’s book reflects on the institution as a whole.
“It is indicative of the fact that Pomona is a research college, that the professors here are both researchers at the top of their field and committed, excellent teachers,” he said. “This is kind of an untold story about academia that the premier liberal arts colleges demand more of our professors.”