Court Capture Covered by the Washington Post
The Washington Post recently published the story of how big right-wing donors snatched control of the courts via Donald Trump’s judicial picks. This is how we ended up with a private organization — accountable only to its dark-money donors — hand-picking all of Trump’s Supreme Court justices, and how that dark-money turnstile gave us the Republican majority poised to strike down Roe.
The central figure in this whole scheme is Leonard Leo, Federalist Society co-chairman and former executive vice president. His connections to big donors, dark money groups, and the conservative legal movement have made him the apparatchik behind right-wing court capture. He appears in the article right away, showing president-elect Trump his hand-written list of Supreme Court nominees.
“As incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, came in and out of the room, Leo laid out a road map for Trump on the federal court system, potentially transforming the foundational understanding of rights in America.”
Leo was the operative for the right-wing court capture machine, and he had an ally in Mitch McConnell, who has long identified courts as powerful tools for right wing corporate policymaking.
“’Majorities change. Taxes go up. Taxes go down,’ [McConnell] continued. ‘If you prefer America right of center, which I do, and you’re looking around at what you can do to have the longest possible impact on the kind of America you want, it seems to me you look at the courts.’”
Trump, in this case, proved useful.
“At a lunch with more than a dozen others that year at the powerhouse law firm Jones Day, Trump said he wanted to make the Supreme Court a campaign priority, surprising some in the room, including Leo… Leo told others it was easy to come up with list of judges that would please the Republican base because there were decades of conservative lawyers in the pipeline.”
When Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died in 2016, Leo came back with another roster of nominees — all approved by the Federalist Society and its dark money donors.
“Leo went to the White House in 2017 with a second list of five proposed candidates that included Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who would become Trump’s next two picks for the high court, replacing the retiring Kennedy and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
There was a three-way fix in from the beginning.
“Leo, McGahn and McConnell became a team, working to keep the judicial nominations effort moving even as other parts of Trump’s term fell victim to internal fighting…McConnell credited Trump’s advisers for the picks and Trump himself for ‘signing off on them.’”
Trump obediently “never veered from the lists of candidates suggested by Leo and others,” according to those familiar with the conversations.
One of McConnell’s advisors recalled Trump saying, “Mitch McConnell. Judges. Judges. Judges. The only thing he wants is judges.”
In this environment, Leo and his allies at the Federalist Society enjoyed “extensive access in the White House,” and found that “the judges issue moved quickly” compared to previous administrations. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett all traveled through this turnstile.
Now, the back-room-chosen justices sit on the Court That Dark Money Built, which is building a statistically telling record of decisions for special interests and big donors. It won’t stop until we expose the scheme in all its slimy ugliness. This Post story is a start.