Inside How the Federalist Society & Koch Brothers Are Pushing for Trump to Reshape Federal Judiciary
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Inside How the Federalist Society & Koch Brothers Are Pushing for Trump to Reshape Federal Judiciary


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As we continue our coverage
of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, we are joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Eric Lipton of The New York Times. He recently co-wrote a piece headlined “In
Gorsuch, Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary.” The piece looks at how a top official at the
Federalist Society, named Leonard Leo, is playing a key role in helping Trump behind
the scenes. AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Leo is currently on leave
from the Federalist Society to help shepherd Gorsuch’s nomination. In addition to nominating Gorsuch to the Supreme
Court, President Trump has 123 other federal judgeships to fill, because Senate Republicans
blocked many of Obama’s nominees. Eric Lipton, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you start off by talking about
the conservative shaping of the judiciary, and particularly the role of the Federalist
Society? ERIC LIPTON: Sure. You know, first off, I mean, you introduced
them at one point by describing them as a right-wing group. I wouldn’t call the Federalist Society a
right-wing group. I think that they are a group of conservative
legal scholars who see themselves as an alternative voice, and they really got started through
law schools in the United States, where there was some concern by law professors that there
was not a forum for conservative people to sort of, you know, meet and discuss theories
relative to the court that could sort of be an alternative to the more liberal, dominant
thought in the court system. But the Federalist Society has grown into
an organization that has an incredible influence in the United States. It is—it has many lawyers who are lawyers
working for different corporations, and it has judges that are members. And it has gatherings around the United States
that pull together conservative legal minds. And it’s funded by a combination of conservative
foundations, that are—you know, that want to try to change various standards in American
society, as well as corporations that like the ideas of the Federalist Society in terms
of limited governing and sort of trying to knock down certain federal regulations. So, what—the thing that is sort of interesting
at this moment is that—is that the judicial philosophy of the Federalist Society and of
groups that are related to it in the conservative world, they are better positioned at this
moment than they probably have ever been in modern times, and because of a series of events
that have occurred. You’ve got the president, who has essentially
allowed them to help pick Supreme Court nominees, and told them that he’s going to also allow
them to provide input to other judges. You’ve got a Congress that is controlled
by Republicans. You have state governments throughout the
United States where the majority of the governors and legislatures are under Republican control. And you have more vacancies right now, going
into this new term for a president, than you’ve had in any time going back to Carter. And also, you have more judges who are near
retirement age than in any time in decades. So, President Trump and the Republicans are
better positioned at this moment to reshape both the federal and state judiciaries than
they probably have ever been. And the Federalist Society and Leonard Leo
are sitting there ready to help that process. AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the foundations
that are supporting the Federalist Society, like the Koch brothers, like Richard Mellon
Scaife? ERIC LIPTON: Yes. I mean, they—you know, you’ve got everything
from Google and Microsoft, which are donors to the Federalist Society, and as well as
major energy companies like Chevron or Devon, which are very—you know, especially Devon
is trying to challenge much of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda when it comes to the environment. But then you have also a lot of very conservative
family foundations that—you know, like the Mercer foundation or the Koch brothers’
foundation, that see their giving, if you look at their donor patterns, as a way to
try to influence American society. And clearly, I mean, the Federalist Society
is a forum for these lawyers to discuss legal approaches that they can then use and to fine-tune
them. And they—the Federalist Society argues that
it is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) that doesn’t—you know, is not an advocacy organization. But it’s pretty clear that they have a very
conservative legal philosophy, when you look at the forums that they hold and the debates
that they hold and the people that are members of it, and you look at the judges that they
also align themselves with. And, I mean, Leonard is almost—has a mythical
status almost in the legal circles in the United States. I mean, you come to an event in Washington
that the Federalist Society puts on and that Leonard Leo is helping organize, and you’re
likely to encounter, you know, at least when Judge Scalia was alive, I mean, Judge Scalia,
Judge Thomas. I mean, he is very well respected among that
circle and has a great deal of influence. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how did he get to have
this influence? He’s almost like the go-to guy. He also shepherded through, apparently, the
confirmations of both Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, as well. How did he get to that position? ERIC LIPTON: I mean, the Federalist Society
is essentially—I mean, a fraternity implies that it’s male, but a fraternity—you know,
could be, say, sorority—of like-minded lawyers. It’s a club. And so, it’s essentially a private club
of like-minded lawyers, and be they judges or corporate lawyers or academic lawyers. And they have regular meetings and conferences. And Leonard Leo is sort of like the—you
know, the head counselor of this group. And they very well—he’s a very respected
guy. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s also, surprisingly for Washington,
very low-key. You don’t hear his voice in the debates
at all. You don’t see him. You don’t see him quoted. He’s very much behind the scenes, but has
a great deal of respect among this universe of folks. He really came to prominence, at first, in
George W. Bush’s administration, when he was named to serve as a sort of intermediary
for Catholics and the Republican Party. And he, himself, is Catholic and very serious
about his beliefs. And then, during—he transitioned from that
role to—early in the Bush administration, they had trouble getting through some Supreme
Court nominees, and Harriet Miers was nominated and then backed out. And there was frustration among conservatives
that Bush was not taking advantage of the power that he had to fill the federal courts. So, Leonard came in, and—Leonard Leo, and
he helped—he helped set up a process to not only identify candidates that were conservative
and that they could get confirmed, but also a process to then build public support across
the United States to execute on those nominations once they were made. So that’s when Judicial Crisis—or then
called Judicial Confirmation—Network was created. Leonard Leo has always been associated with
this group. He helps find them money. And they began a public relations campaign
nationally to get the conservative judges confirmed, once, you know, folks like Leonard
had helped get them nominated. AMY GOODMAN: You begin your piece, Eric, the
front-page piece of the Sunday New York Times, by saying, “Deep into the Senate’s 68-page
questionnaire of Judge [Neil M.] Gorsuch, the Supreme Court nominee was asked to describe
how he had come to President Trump’s attention.” And he said—”The first thing he wrote was,
‘I was contacted by Leonard Leo.'” So, can you also talk, as you are now, talking
about the allied organizations and those that Leonard Leo works with, like John Malcolm
of the Heritage Foundation, Ann Corkery, the Washington lawyer who, along with her husband,
oversees the Judicial Crisis Network and, you say, related dark-money groups that also
support the cause? ERIC LIPTON: Yeah, I mean, I, as a reporter
and as a person that believes in transparency and also likes—someone that likes to kind
of, you know, to decipher riddles, I find it really interesting to just observe this
kind of aligned parties and the various roles that they have set up. So you have, you know, the Federalist Society
and Leonard that’s playing a role in helping identify candidates to nominate and to bring
them to the administration and to get the process started. And then you essentially have a handoff, because
he is a 501(c)(3). You know, he comes from that world, where
you’re not advocates. Then you have his handoff to this group, the
Judicial Crisis Network, which is an advocacy organization that’s spending, you know,
something upwards of $4 million on television commercials and radio and other media, particularly
in the states where there are Senate Democrats who are up for re-election next year in states
where Trump won. OK, so these are Democrats that live in red
states who are vulnerable. And Gorsuch is going to need their votes in
order to get confirmed, because, otherwise—unless, you know, the 60-vote rule is overturned,
in order to get—you know, to prevent the block. You know, he doesn’t need it for a majority;
he needs it to get the vote to the floor. And so, that’s where Judicial Crisis Network
comes in. This is an organization that was set up in
approximately 2005, and it’s a dark-money group. They will not tell you who their donors are. But when you look at their—at their 990,
which is their tax form—and I happen to conveniently have a copy here, and the thing
that’s so interesting about it to me is that, you know, they show that they had a
budget of—in 2014, of $5.7 million, which isn’t that much, but that’s just one of
many aligned organizations. And then you go to the page that shows who
their donors are, and it’s called the Schedule B of the 990. And if you ask for it, you can get it, although
if you look in the normal tax records, you won’t find it. And you see that all of their money came from
two donors, although the names of the donors aren’t there. So, you know, $5.75 million came from two
people. And then you look at their 990, as well, and
say, “Well, OK, how many people do you have that work for you? How many volunteers do you have?” Zero employees, zero volunteers. So you’re sort of wondering, “Well, what
is this group?” I mean, it has zero employees, zero volunteers. All of its money come from two donations. So how much is this really a grassroots organization,
or how much is it an organization that takes checks from players that want to influence
the federal judiciary and then funnel the money through this organization to try to
create an appearance that it’s really a grassroots organization? And that’s something that— AMY GOODMAN: And do you know who those two
people are? ERIC LIPTON: Well, if you reverse-engineer
the federal—the IRS records, which I did, you could find—you could backwards—you
could find this organization called the Wellspring Committee. OK, so here’s the interesting thing. The Wellspring Committee, which is also—it’s
based in Virginia, is run—and here, the signed document, Wellspring, this is their
990, is Ann Corkery. OK, so Ann Corkery is listed, signed here
as the president of the Wellspring Committee. OK, on the Judicial Crisis Network, this document,
who signs it as a treasurer? Neil Corkery. That’s her husband. OK, so her husband helps run the Judicial
Crisis Network. Ann Corkery runs Wellspring Committee. And then you look at the back of their Schedule—who
do they give—who does the Wellspring Committee give money to? Oh, so they gave $5.775 million to the Judicial
Crisis Network in 2014. Wait a second, that’s exactly the same amount
of the money that the Judicial Crisis Network spent in 2014. So, this—Ann Corkery gave all of the money
to—and so then you wonder, “OK, where does Wellspring get its money from?” Well, then you begin this process, because
of the—you know, the federal government doesn’t require disclosure of donors. You end up into a brick wall, because you
can’t find out Wellspring—where Wellspring Committee gets its money from, and you end
up in the dark-money circle. But, basically, what you see is that this
is an interconnected network that is moving money around in a way to try to hide who the
original donors were. And then it’s—and the connections between
the Federalist Society and the Judicial Crisis Network and Ann Corkery and Neil Corkery and
Leonard Leo, and the connection between Judicial Crisis Network and the Wellspring Committee,
they’re all interconnected. And now, I mean, they have their—they certainly
have the right to influence this process. I mean, it’s a democracy. You raise money, you spend money. I just think it’s interesting to bring light
to this and to sort of—to examine this network. And, you know, that’s their right to do
it, and they’re doing it. But I think, you know— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Eric Lipton, I’d like
to ask you—obviously, they’re now using this entire machinery to help get Judge Gorsuch
approved for the Supreme Court. But I wanted to ask you about the article
you wrote, “Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers, Polluters and More.” The potential impact of Judge Gorsuch’s
views on federal regulatory policy in terms of how he might shift the court in this direction? ERIC LIPTON: Yeah, I mean, you know, I’d
say, to me, forgetting all the tweets and the kind of the headlines that Trump has generated
so far in his administration, there’s two really big things that are happening. OK, and I’m sorry, I have one more caveat:
besides the immigration fight. And those are regulatory policy, which there
are major things happening on the regulatory policy front, and then the judicial. You know, we’re only—Gorsuch is only the
start. But, you know, as you said, there are 124
vacancies. So there is some major stuff that’s about
to happen. OK, so on the regulatory policy, Gorsuch,
you know, is—it’s going to be interesting to watch. I mean, this is a guy who, in terms of the
famous Chevron deference decision, you know, took a position opposed to Chevron deference,
which allows that federal agencies have the right to interpret the law in a way to then
write a regulation that offers, essentially, their interpretation. And Chevron deference, the court ruled that
they have the right to do that. And he has found—he has ruled against that. And that is like a fundamental ruling that
really shapes the powers of federal agencies to interpret the actions by Congress and to,
therefore, build off of that legal action. And if Chevron deference is overturned, then
we’re going to have a very different regulatory system in the United States. And that—and, OK, you look at—if you want
sort of to further that answer, you look at Judicial Crisis Network. Who—in addition to spending millions of
dollars on ads to get Gorsuch confirmed, what else is Judicial Crisis Network spending a
lot of money on? It’s spending millions of dollars to get
Republicans elected as state attorneys general. And the reason that is, is they want Republican
attorneys general to bring cases in state and federal court that challenge federal regulations,
which they think are overreaching, and then to get those cases into the court, in which
they then help pick the judges and have more conservative judges, and then will have decisions
which limit the federal powers. And I think that, you know, that Gorsuch is—if
you look at his record, it’s reasonable to expect that he will—he will believe in
a more—a narrow interpretation of the law and that any time that a federal agency goes
too far, that it’s appropriate for the courts to review it and decide if it has stepped
beyond its bounds. Now, I guess, you know, it’s going to be
interesting to watch. But that said, we’re going back to a 5-4
court, which is where it was before. So, you know, is it going to be that radically
different from the court we had before Justice Scalia died? Probably not. AMY GOODMAN: In your piece on conservatives
using the Gorsuch nomination to press overhaul in judiciary, you mention an attorney general—well,
a past one—the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who’s now head of the EPA. And you talk about how he sort of quipped
that when—when Leonard Leo calls, you answer. And he invited him to dinner in Washington,
and so Scott Pruitt stayed. And you talk about who was at that dinner. ERIC LIPTON: Yeah, it just, again, shows you
just what incredible status that Leonard Leo has. And so, Scott Pruitt was in town for a Federalist
Society meeting. Scott Pruitt is very active in the Federalist
Society. These are people with like-minded philosophies
about the benefits of limited government. And so, Leonard asked—approached Scott and
said, “You know, Scott, stay over Friday night for dinner. I think you’ll enjoy it.” And so, Scott Pruitt shows up for the dinner. It’s in a basement, which is sort of interesting. They don’t specify why the dinner was held
in a basement location in Washington, D.C. And who’s there at the dinner table but
Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas. So these are the kind of folks that when,
you know, Leonard Leo has a Friday night dinner and he invites the attorney general from Oklahoma
to join him, that these are the folks that he has around the table. And one of the interesting things is, this
little anecdote, which Scott Pruitt mentioned in a speech that he gave in Michigan last
year—this anecdote came up during Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, because this
moment occurred at the time when Scott Pruitt was attorney general, and he had a number
of cases in federal court, including several that had reached the Supreme Court. And so, you’ve got to wonder—I mean, here
it is, the attorney general of Oklahoma with a number of matters that are pending before
the Supreme Court—is it appropriate for him to be having private conversations in
a dinner in an undisclosed location with two members of the Supreme Court? Pruitt was asked about that in the questions
that were—written questions that were presented to him during his confirmation. And he said that he doesn’t remember the
specifics of what was discussed, but he’s certain that he did not discuss pending court
matters. But again, it just sort of shows you Leonard
Leo’s really pretty unprecedented and underappreciated reach in conservative legal worlds in the
United States, that he could bring together the attorney general of Oklahoma and two sitting
members of the United States Supreme Court for a dinner. AMY GOODMAN: Eric Lipton, we’re going to
ask you to stay with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times. And we’ll link to your piece, “In Gorsuch,
Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary.” You’ve also written about what’s going
on right now around FBI Director James Comey and other issues. And we’d like you to stay with us when we
talk about this extraordinary moment yesterday when the director of the FBI, James Comey,
revealed the agency is investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Stay with us.

35 Comments

  • Patsy Stone

    Be afraid…be very afraid America…you are witnessing the end of democracy and the rise and takeover of Plutocracy ruled government. This small group of rich people have purchased your freedom and they plan to squash us all.

  • Patsy Stone

    Read Jane Mayer "Dark Money" She has exposed this plan by The Kochs under the guise of foundations and conservative societies to infiltrate elections, universities and public schools with their "free market" philosophy. "Free market" is Koch code for we get to pillage the planet for all of its resources for their own benefit and with complete disregard for anyone who is not them. Rule the world is their goal, no government or court can be allowed to get in the way. Pure evil.

  • Dickie Fitzgerald

    Dems should use the "Biden Rule" as well. It's just that simple. Biden is quoted as saying that there should be no confirmation hearings once the campaign season has started. Trump filed for re-election on inauguration day. Since then he's had at least two rallies paid for by his re-election campaign. Has the 2020 campaign season not been started by Trump? Does the "Biden Rule" not apply now?

  • Fletcher V

    The oligarchy has bought every slice of America that is for sale: every slice. We critically need the media to continue reporting the important news, and for Americans to wake up and demand that they be treated better than minimum wage slaves.

  • janie camacho

    Trump should not be allowed to pass laws or have his nominees confirmed until the FBI determines that Trump is not a planted Russia agent or treasonous president.  Trump is
    continually preforming impeachable offences. Let’s wait until the dust settles before making a decision you can’t reverse.

  • Jean Falco

    RESEARCH THE HISTORY OF THE KOCH BROTHERS AND THEY GOT THEIR BILLIONS FOR BUILDING UP STALIN'S INFRA STRUCTURE IN RUSSIA DURING THE COLD WAR!  THEY ARE ENEMIES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND ARE CORPORATE WELFARE QUEENS!!!!

  • Heather Stahlnecker

    these predators are evil and intend to take our country down for their personal wealth. good luck America….this is what you get for giving a sociopath the white house.

  • tomitstube

    democrats need to do everything they can do to stop this appointment, the day that the supreme court rules on all these cases mentioned with a 5-4 corporate bent is a sad day indeed.  and the idea being it was a democratic pick that was stolen, this is a coup of democracy.

  • tomitstube

    "the federalist society discussing the benefits of limited government."   replace "government" with "democracy" and you see what they really mean.

  • edward woods

    Any Democrat that votes for this fake judge seriously better start looking for a new job outside The government.. you talk about a con job. With the president under investigation by the FBI and the NSA they should know way be holding these hearings right now

  • Fredlee Johnson

    And WELL'WELL this news story and interview is/was just about 18:46 minutes of in my opinion "FOOD FOR THOUGHT" In their own opinion and point of view I'm just saying is/was uploaded on March 21,2017.

  • Wotiluv

    well they are wanting the russian model, this is how it is there, the rich rule, no judicial no government no rights you just drink lots of vodka and be happy

  • Michelle Gritz

    Block this Purple Revulsion Cult gathering. They are literally enslaving the minds of the healing. Full manipulation of political blue balls. Embarrassing to expose our children to a debate that a DEM attends. They're blithering criminal gangsta's that hide behind money. They are miserable creatures if they were to go against this PURE GOLD Judge. Mr. Gorsuch would be a blessing to those who disagreed with Trump. Good balance of morale and humility.

  • Jack Horn

    Only in the US today would someone not call this a Right wing group. If Obama and Clinton are Left (which of course they are not) this is the rhetoric that allows this far Right. We must continue to correct the rhetoric calling corporate dems as Left.

  • MegF

    From their website: "Founded in 1982, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks to promote awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities." " We have fostered a greater appreciation for the role of separation of powers; federalism; limited, constitutional government; and the rule of law in protecting individual freedom and traditional values."

  • LuxAlbedo

    Good. I hope they rip the SJW legal house of cards down to the foundation of the law. Stamp it out as the white haters say. Eradicate the white hating tyranny. Uproot the trash and bury it for good.

  • Étienne de La Boétie

    Geez. The comments are filled with people who do not know anything about the different schools of legal thought. They're afraid of the "right wing" foundations pushing their agenda. Don't look behind the curtain at Democracy Now! or else you'll see the Tides Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur foundations….they are all pushing social engineering projects – that's what philanthropies do!

    idiots!

  • ZER0

    If you lived in the height of the Greek or Roman Empire you'd never think they would fall. Then later we had the dark ages. Look up "Bread and Circuses" and you'll see a stark similarity to present day America, though the name could be changed to "Burgers and TV". Good bye America.

  • Lester Prosser

    The Federalists look to the Federalist papers for aid in interpreting law, as if the founders never said a thing or never had a thought later than when the Federalist papers were written. And why do they maintain that position? Because, it is the only way to justify their conservative positions. It is a very dishonest approach to legal scholarship. It's morally bankrupt, because the founders said a whole lot more than what they put into the Federalist papers, and those conservative voices that have that legal perspective, KNOW that there are other thoughts than what is in the Federalist papers and they deliberately ignore them.

  • Funky Euphemism

    It would have been nice if you could have given an actual primer in the history and mission statement about the Federalist Society (information which you seem to suggest they intentionally hide/obfuscate) before you gave vague descriptions of people you already dislike who have had some kind of potential association with or influence over the federalist society, or even people you speculate might have some connection and insinuated they wield some kind of undue and deleterious influence… I have no problem with you criticizing the federalist society. Merely suggesting that maybe it's more productive and intellectually honest to attack ideas instead of people. Guilt by association is a very poor substitute for dialectics.

  • James Michael Campbell

    I don't think at this time half of you clown's can't understand how bad it's going to be for the human specie's

  • Ann Juurinen

    This is very fragile. So many people with guns in the US. When the penny finally drops the elite money and hate mongers will have to leave the country permanently. The Real Power is always at the bottom.

  • John Kiene

    Article V of the US Constitution provides citizens a path to keep the Federal government in check to limit their powers, regulations and interference in the lives of Americans. https://conventionofstates.com. Please join and support this group.

  • 333 MMM

    This shit will make the civil rights movement look like child's play! " it doesn't matter, they will go back a decade or more and find something on you" snowden , about your internet activity.

  • Gregory Campbell

    Kock's donate to all sides. This channel has become liberal propaganda. Gotta keep majority lawmakers conservative. Or else we'd have the 2nd amendment repealed, door to door confiscation, legalized child porn, minors getting sex changes, all religions banned except for Islam, even more out of control debt to fund all the new socialized programs that lead to poor health & nutrition and rampant homelessness, increased violent crime, open borders allowing everyone to siphon off the socialized programs. For proof you just gotta look at Chicago, new York, Detroit, Oakland or San Francisco to see examples of this

  • Taylor T

    Been watching videos with my son sleeping and the second this lady’s annoying liberal NPR type voice comes on he opens his eyes 👀 and looks around like wth….

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