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Barbara K. Olson Memorial Lecture Series


Barbara K. Olson
1955-2001

On September 11, 2001, at the age of 45 and at the height of her professional and personal life, Barbara Olson was murdered in the terrorist attacks against the United States as a passenger on the hijacked American Airlines flight that was flown into the Pentagon. The Federalist Society established this annual lecture in Barbara's memory because of her enormous contributions as an active member, supporter, and volunteer leader.

Barbara Olson led a life of distinguished public and private service as an attorney in Washington, D.C. She came to the law after successful ventures as a ballet dancer and a Hollywood production manager. A 1989 graduate of Cardozo Law School, Barbara's legal career included tours of duty in the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorneys Office in Washington, D.C. She also served as Deputy General Counsel and Solicitor to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Chief Investigative Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight and as Counsel to the Assistant Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. At the time of her tragic death, Barbara was a partner in the Washington, D.C. law office of Balch & Bingham.

There is no better example of a citizen lawyer than Barbara Olson. She regularly directed her talents at defending limitations on government power against overreaching and corruption by public officials at all levels. Much of what she did as a practicing lawyer in government and in the private sector was directed to that end. But she also often took this message to the airwaves as a thoughtful and spirited commentator on all of the nation's leading television news programs. Importantly, her service to the Federalist Society further demonstrated her irrepressible commitment to the rule of law in our system of limited, constitutional government.

Barbara Olson's close association with the Federalist Society began during her law school career, when she founded and served as president of the organization's Cardozo Law School Chapter. She later served as an officer of the Washington, D.C. Lawyers Chapter and of the Administrative Law Practice Group and as a member of the Society's National Practitioners Advisory Council. She reached out to the Federalist Society's membership throughout the country as a frequent guest speaker at events. With her husband Ted Olson, Barbara helped to cultivate and inspire the organization's student chapter leadership by opening up her home each year to student chapter presidents attending the Society's annual Student Leadership Conference. That annual barbecue has become a centerpiece of the Federalist Society's student leadership outreach.

The Federalist Society believes that it is most fitting to dedicate an annual lecture on limited government and the spirit of freedom to the memory of Barbara Olson. She had a deep commitment to the rule of law and understood well the relationship between respecting limits on government power and the preservation of freedom. And, significantly, Barbara Olson was an individual who never took freedom for granted in her own life, even in her final terrifying moments-her inspiring and energetic human spirit is a testament to what one can achieve in a world that places a premium on human freedom.

Beginning in November of 2001, the memorial lecture and a following reception will be held each year at the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention. We envision that the lecture will bring together leaders of the legal and policy worlds in a lively discussion of the ideas that Barbara held most dear. The Federalist Society welcomes contributions to a fund that will support the lecture. Contributions can be directed to the Federalist Society at the following address:

The Federalist Society
Barbara K. Olson Memorial Lecture Fund
1015 Eighteenth Street, NW
Suite 425
Washington, DC 20036

Click HERE for a list of past lecturers.