Dark Money Funds Campaign Pushing Supreme Court to the Right

Interview with Lisa Graves, founder, executive director and editor-in-chief at True North Research, conducted by Scott Harris

During Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, focused his colleagues’ and the nation’s attention on what he described as the dark money campaign to move the Supreme Court and other federal courts across the country, to the right. Whitehouse and many legal observers say that precedent-setting rulings on women’s reproductive rights, labor rights, access to affordable health care, corporate pollution and climate regulations and same-sex marriage may all be overturned thanks to the influence of a shadowy network of wealthy right-wing donors and groups that include Federalist Society board co-chair Leonard Leo, Judicial Crisis Network, the Bradley Foundation and the Koch brothers.

Whitehouse cited earlier investigations by the Washington Post, which found that conservative nonprofits had raised more than $250 million in donations between 2014 and 2017 that were used partly to support conservative policies and judges. Under IRS regulations, contributions to these non-profits do not have to be publicly disclosed.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lisa Graves, founder, executive director and editor-in-chief at True North Research. Here she talks about her recent article, “Dark Money for Supreme Court Briefs Tied to Former Federalist Society Leader” and how, if Donald Trump’s nominee Judge Barrett is confirmed by the Senate, that will likely cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation or more.

LISA GRAVES: If you see their ads, the ads of the Judicial Crisis Network, or some of the other groups like Charles Koch’s groups, they talked about being a rule of law judge and limited constitutional government. Those are really code words that in essence, mislead the public because last year Leonard Leo was in essence caught on tape telling donors in a closed door meeting that this was a legal revolution, that this was a revival in his words of what he called the “Structural Constitution” that would roll back a century of precedents. He said to that room of donors that no one in that room (had ever seen in their lives) the kind of legal revolution that these appointments were going to unfold on America. And so they’re just not having an honest debate with the American people about what their agenda is.

Some of the conversation has been focused on choice and Trump’s pledge to use his nominations to overturn Roe v Wade, as well as his commitment and determination to overturn the Affordable Care Act and her refusal to really address those questions in a direct way. The fact is that the agenda is much broader than that. This effort to roll back this century, right? Modern American constitutional law and precedent would be designed to take away the power of federal agency to regulate corporations, including over climate change, pollution, health and safety conditions for workers, to remove labor rights and civil rights, as well. And so you have a really radically reactionary agenda that Leo has put forward. Now that’s been funded in part by the Bradley Foundation, as well as Charles Koch through his foundation, his company and possibly his personal checking account.

The Bradley Foundation is a foundation here in Wisconsin where I’m located. And it has nearly a billion dollars in assets from a couple of brothers in Wisconsin who were manufacturers who were super anti-labor and the foundation has been funding efforts to basically roll back Americans’ rights in particular, to roll back their labor rights, workers’ rights, as well as specifically to roll back and repeal the Affordable Care Act through judicial fiat. So those are some of the sort of key agenda items that we know from their own words when they’re not running ads trying to mislead people about Amy Barrett being a rule of law judge. She’s really been chosen with a view that she will reverse precedence, that she will reverse people’s rights. And unfortunately, Leonard Leo and his secret funders who are spending millions to get her confirmed aren’t being honest with the American people about their true agenda.

SCOTT HARRIS: I’ve heard some analysis of the push to move the Supreme Court and federal courts to the right as being somewhat of an insurance policy for right-wing forces in the country given that demographics and voting patterns are moving to the left and that having the judiciary branch in their pocket would be in essence a veto over policies that the right doesn’t approve of. But as we conclude, there’s been a lot of discussion more recently that if Joe Biden wins this presidential election, there are folks urging him to expand the court or to impose term limits or both on the justices. That would be a method to rebalance the court. What is your view of some of that advice?

LISA GRAVES: Well, two things first. I just want to say, I really appreciated that Sen. (Richard) Blumenthal asked Amy Barrett to recuse herself in any cases involving election, but she refused. So we have this illegitimate process where people have been put on positions on the court, rammed through in an election year in order to game the court, basically in order to secure that majority against progressive policies, but also against potentially our ability to even mitigate climate change.

And so it’s a true crisis of legitimacy of the Supreme Court. It’s also the case in my lifetime for the last 52 years, there’ve been 15 Republican presidential appointments to the Supreme Court and 4 Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court. The court has been captured already greatly out of balance. And I think that any person concerned about the integrity and legitimacy of the court in this capacity would consider how to modernize the court, whether it should be expanded and whether other courts should be expanded and also to make sure the courts better reflect what America looks like and the diversity of legal experience in our American legal community. I think it’s vitally important that we have fair courts and courts that can handle the work and needs of a 21st century America.

For more information, visit True North Research at TrueNorthResearch.org.

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