Steven Teles' The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement:

Steven Teles' new book The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement is an important and insightful account of conservative and libertarian efforts to influence the law, legal institutions and the legal academy over the last 30 years. It does a good job of explaining the successes and failures of the institutions it discusses (primarily the Federalist Society, the Olin Foundation, and libertarian public interest law firms such as the Institute for Justice and the Center for Individual Rights).

As David Bernstein notes, the book is not a truly complete discussion of the subject implied by its title. Indeed, it is really more of a study of libertarian public interest organizations and academic movements than of the right of center legal movement more generally. With the exception of the Federalist Society (which, as Teles correctly notes, deliberately maintains "big tent" neutrality between libertarians and conservatives), most of the major institutions profiled in the book are either explicitly libertarian (such as IJ) or primarily focused on advancing the libertarian elements of the conservative agenda (such as CIR and various law and economics programs).

The book pays little attention to right of center legal institutions motivated primarily by religious considerations (such as Regent Law School, the Rutherford Institute, etc.) or to the social conservative backlash against liberal efforts to use the courts to protect "obscene" speech, extend abortion rights, and limit government "entanglement" with religion. Teles does note that these causes have gained relatively less ground in the academic and public interest worlds than libertarian ones and suggests that courts might be better vehicles for efforts to limit government power (as libertarians seek to do) than for efforts to expand or protect it (as social conservatives wish to do in those areas where they disagree with libertarians). This is an intriguing thesis, but warrants more systematic discussion than Teles is able to give it in this book. A greater focus on social conservative legal movements might have enriched Teles' analysis and provided him with a good comparative foil for assessing the more libertarian organizations he focuses on.

Despite this limitation, Teles' book is still by far the best academic analysis of recent right of center efforts to influence the law. In upcoming posts, I'm going to consider Teles' insightful analysis of particular institutions in more detail.

UPDATE: I have removed the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty from the list of conservative legal organizations motivated primarily by religious considerations. As Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund pointed out to me in an e-mail, the organization is in fact secular in nature, even though it focuses on protecting religious liberties.