On August 23, 1971, less than two months before he was nominated to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. mailed a confidential memorandum to his friend Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chair of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memo was titled Attack On American Free Enterprise System and outlined ways in which business should defend and counter attack against a “broad attack” from “disquieting voices.”
Initially the memo was viewed, and praised, by only a select few within the Chamber. That all changed on September 28 & 29, 1972, when the leaked document was the topic of negative treatment in syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson’s Washington Merry Go Round. With quotations from the document now public, the Chamber published it in full in Washington Report, the Chamber’s newsletter. An off-print of the memo was made available to anyone requesting it from the Chamber.
Interest in the memorandum was revived in the early 1990s. The Alliance for Justice’s 1993 report, Justice for Sale, mentions it prominently. The case for the memo being a seminal document in the neoconservative movement in the U.S. was made in 2000 with the publication of John B. Judis’s The Paradox of American Democracy. The Internet became a medium for access to the memo and for posting articles about it. Mediatransparency.org was one of the first World Wide Web sites to feature the memo, as was the official site of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Today the memo is both credited as having “changed America” and scorned as being “far out of touch with the concerns and structures of the current right.”
Whatever it’s influence, it has been and remains today the single most requested document in the Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Papers. On the fortieth anniversary of its creation, the Powell Archives has here assembled links to the memo and related documents from the Powell Papers. Lyman Johnson, Robert O. Bentley professor of law at Washington and Lee university School of Law, also wrote this piece in commemoration of this anniversary.