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Leonard Leo’s Court Capture Web Raised Nearly $600 Million in Recent Years; It's Now Attacking Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Nomination to the Supreme Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Contact: Becky Timmons | email@example.com, (218) 206-4926
This week, as the Senate Judiciary Committee conducts confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, True North Research is releasing its newest tally of the money raised by the court capture network tied to right-wing operative Leonard Leo. In all, these groups raised more than half a billion dollars, nearly $600 million, to capture the Supreme Court and other courts and to reshape the law since 2014 — since before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in early 2016 through the year Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed in 2020.
Much of that money was spent to reshape the bench and the law, including keeping President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from being confirmed to the Court in 2016, and pushing for the confirmations of three very controversial nominees of Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, who have swung the Court to the far right.
Last month, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) referenced our tally from prior IRS filings, $400 million, but with new data about 2020 revenue, we can say with confidence that the figure raised by Leo-tied groups is more than $580 million. This does not include any of money raised by those groups in 2021 in anticipation of a Court vacancy under President Joe Biden. IRS filings showing fundraising by Leo-connected groups in 2021 will not be known until November of this year, and the revenue of his new for-profit enterprise is not required to be publicly disclosed.
“The Leo-tied Judicial Crisis Network is buying ads claiming progressives are using dark money to capture the Court, but that is a supremely hypocritical attack,” said Evan Vorpahl, a Senior Researcher at True North Research who tallied the funds of Leo’s web of groups, noting: “Sen. Whitehouse correctly called this right-wing spin ‘squid ink’ that confuses the public about the reality that Leo’s umbrella of dark money groups has already captured a majority on the Court.”
Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of True North, added: “No one but Leonard Leo and his secret funders knows how much he helped raise or has deployed in opposition to Judge Brown Jackson’s nomination, but the attack ads show it is no small sum.” She also stated: “Leo has told funders that the faction he helped choose for the Court is poised to reverse important legal precedents. In my view, the faction is intent on reversing the reproductive freedom of American women, limiting the power of the EPA to regulate carbon as climate change worsens, and crushing the ability of federal courts to protect Americans’ freedom to vote. It is truly regressive.”
She also noted that groups supporting Judge Brown Jackson are not trying to reverse a century of precedent, in contrast to Leo’s. His groups have been fueled by secret donors who apparently prefer judicial activists who will reverse legal precedents they dislike, not neutrals like Justice David Souter, whom right-wing elites loathed because he did not deliver the results they wanted.
As part of today’s release, True North is also providing an appendix of key information about the groups that are part of the tally, including information about their agenda to reverse legal precedents that millions of Americans rely upon. Notably, True North has documented how some of the same groups that praised Trump’s promise to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court have predictably decried President Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Court. True North will be tracking the claims made by these groups and their cohorts in ads and earned media, and will be posting more key findings on its site and in its Substack newsletter.
In the accompanying appendix, True North updates the tally of the revenue originally calculated by the Washington Post in its investigation of Leo’s web. The new tally builds on prior research by True North, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), and the Post. This update provides a window into the well-financed machine that is now weaponized against Judge Brown Jackson.
At the time of the Post’s initial investigation in 2019, its investigative team found that the court capture network tied to Leo had raised more than $250 million. That figure did not include the sums raised by those groups in 2018, when the controversial Brett Kavanaugh was pushed through to the Court in one of the closest votes in U.S. history. Last year’s tally of more than $400 million similarly did not have access to the figures raised by those groups the year that Amy Coney Barrett was rushed through to the Court right before the 2020 presidential election.
That tally was prepared by True North and CMD for the testimony of Lisa Graves to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is the President of CMD’s Board and Executive Director of True North Research. She previously served as the Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts, and as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice where she was the staff leader of DOJ’s Working Group on Judicial Selection, among other posts.
Her research and analysis have played a significant role in the debates over the nominations of Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett, and she is also featured in Jackie Calmes’ new book, “Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court.”
Read the full release and descriptions of the Leo court capture groups here.
Dark Money “Law Center” Gave GOP Senators Talking Points They Are Using to Attack Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee in This Week’s Hearings
By Alyssa Bowen and Lisa Graves
At the end of February, less than a month before this week’s Supreme Court nomination hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the “Independent Women’s Law Center” (IWLC) circulated “suggested SCOTUS talking points” to GOP Senators, according to a memo obtained by Documented, a corporate watchdog group.
In that memo, IWLC – which is a project of the dark money duo Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) – urges Senators to attack Judge Brown Jackson for her “judicial philosophy” rather than her credentials, which experts have called “extraordinary.”
This is not a new tactic.
Leonard Leo’s network, with the backing of tens of millions in anonymous funding, has pushed the Supreme Court and other courts to the far right, through judicial nominations, litigation, and more. Part of this dark money push has been to promote the teaching of “originalism,” a framework that purports to interpret the “original intent” of the men who long ago wrote and amended the Constitution.
Originalism, though, is highly political and correlated with political right. In fact, its modern origins can be traced to the backlash against Brown v. Board of Education. That is the 1954 decision that found racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the law.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush nominee backed by Leo and groups tied to him, has deployed this framework to eviscerate the power of the federal government to protect the voting rights of Black Americans and others.
IWF/IWV/IWLC – which have cumulatively received more than $4.75 million from the Leo network since 2014 – in their memo urge GOP Senators to correlate Judge Jackson’s process for deciding cases with “judicial activism.” They claim she may “bend the law” to fit “subjective notions of fairness” if she does not promise to follow the right-wing’s originalist framework.
IWLC’s memo also encourages GOP Senators to paint Democrats and supporters of Judge Jackson as “hypocritical” for not supporting women and racial minorities nominated by the GOP.
Yet, IWF and IWV refuse to hold themselves to the same logic. The groups, which celebrated Trump’s promise to nominate a woman to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy in 2021, now claim that Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court was “discriminatory,” “toxic,” “pandering at its worst,” and “neo-racism.”
Meanwhile, IWF and IWV have used a veneer of neutrality while promoting right-wing politicians and policies. IWV CEO Heather Higgins explained her groups’ role within the right-wing infrastructure to funders at a David Horowitz event: “Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you’re actually conservative puts us in a unique position,” she pitched, touting how IWF can “repackage” right-wing messaging to appeal to women outside the GOP.
IWF was founded by three white women as Women for Judge Thomas, a group launched to back Clarence Thomas’ bid for the Supreme Court and discredit Anita Hill’s testimony of Thomas’ sexually harassment toward her (which he denied but which other Black women also accused him of). IWF/IWV also spent a substantial amount of money to help force Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. IWF fellows and staffers viciously assailed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the Stanford psychologist who credibly accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape, even though Kavanaugh denied it. IWF and IWV also rallied behind Amy Coney Barrett during her nomination process, including staging an “I’m with Her” event outside of the Supreme Court as part of their “[broad] strategy of casting criticism of Barrett as anti-woman,” as described by The Intercept.
IWV has also promoted a far-right agenda by spending money to help extremist U.S. Senate candidates, like Todd Akin, after he claimed rape could not lead to pregnancy, and Richard Mourdock, after he said that rape victims who became pregnant “carried a gift from God.” IWF has also helped to mainstream Trump’s Big Lie on voter fraud and has repeatedly challenged public health science during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Although IWF has a stated non-position on Roe v. Wade, several of its key staffers and fellows have attacked the widely popular reproductive rights of women, including Erin Hawley, the spouse of Sen. Josh Hawley.
IWF/IWV’s seeming veneer of moderation and neutrality has provided access to mainstream media platforms, from CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Hill, The Washington Post, and more. The GOP has also given them substantial airtime as women testifying before Congress against pro-woman public policies that are widely favored by women, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, paid leave, equal pay, and federal child care assistance.
IWF and IWV apparently have deep sway with some GOP politicians. Higgins even took credit for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, claiming that Sen. Susan Collins confided to her that in the era of #MeToo, she could not have voted for Kavanaugh without IWF’s talking points. She also said FOX used those talking points as well.
Leading up to this week’s Supreme Court nomination process, right-wing dark money groups have scrambled to find a unified message with which to attack Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brown Jackson. They seem to have found it in IWLC’s “judicial philosophy” talking points.
Here are some examples of how GOP Senators have echoed the talking points IWLC urged:
IWLC: “The best way to tell whether a judge will be impartial and apply the law as written is to examine her judicial philosophy and her views about the role of the Court in a democratic society.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): “The American people deserve a Supreme Court Justice with a documented commitment to the text of the Constitution and the rule of law, not a judicial activist who will attempt to make policy from the bench.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): “I think it’s important that a jurist … acknowledge the importance of interpreting the law as it was written, as it was understood by the public at the time of its enactment… this is how we maintain the rule of law, this is part of how we have given force to this greatest human civilization that human history has ever recorded.”
IWLC: “If they really cared about demographic representation they would not have opposed the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Court and they would not have participated in vicious smear campaigns against Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown, Neomi Rao, and other nominees of color to the federal bench.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE): “If this process were conducted in good faith Miguel Estrada and Janice Brown might well be on the Supreme Court today, but their opponents lied and bullied rather than accepting principled minority judges.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I remember Janice Rogers Brown, the African American woman that was filibustered by the same people praising you. I remember Miguel Estrada, one of the finest people I’ve ever met, completely wiped out… So if you are Hispanic or African American conservative it’s about your philosophy, [but] now it’s going to be about the historic nature of the pick.”
IWLC: “We need to see evidence that this nominee will leave politics to the politicians and not try to rewrite our Constitution or the statutes passed by Congress to fit her own personal conceptions of justice.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): ”If a judge rewrites a law later because of vague notions about fairness, or equity, or common good, that unravels all of our work here in the Congress.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC): “a good judge must understand his or her job isn’t to legislate from the bench and read in their preferred policy outcomes into statutes.”
True North Research fellow, Ansev Demirhan, also contributed to this analysis.