The Federalist Society: How the GOP rigged SCOTUS

Guest post by Melanie D’Arrigo, originally published by Turn Left

The Supreme Court may soon put an end to the Voting Rights Act. I recently sent an email to my subscribers at Turn Left addressing this, and I was overwhelmed by the responses. I know how frustrating it is to see the corruption happening right in front of us. For years, even before I ran for Congress, I’ve shouted from the rooftops that Republicans don’t want to protect voting rights. 

I gave a brief overview of the Federalist Society in that email. Many of yof the responses asked if I could provide a better explanation. I’m happy to help.

As I said before, the Federalist Society is a conservative dark money group of billionaires that successfully installed their hand-picked justices to the Supreme Court. Those justices then preside over cases that those same dark money billionaire donors bring to the court, almost always resulting in a favorable outcome for the donors that installed the justices. 

But how did they do it? 

The Federalist Society was founded in 1982, supposedly by a group of law students fed up with not having right-leaning clubs on their college campuses. It’s the same story behind the more recent founding of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA. (Let me know if you’d like a refresher on those guys, too.) 

But unlike Charlie Kirk, the founders of the Federalist Society had deep pockets, a proven track record for success, and a strategic agenda.  

That agenda? Identify and recruit lawyers aligned with right-wing donors’ interests to eventually nominate for positions on federal courts.

The first two faculty advisors to a Federalist Society club were former Attorney General Robert Bork and Justice Antonin Scalia, who’d maneuver himself onto the Supreme Court just four years later. Bork was nominated by Nixon soon after, but he lost his Senate confirmation by 16 votes for his radical, anti-American views on abortion, race, policing, and other issues.

From the start, members like Bork and Scalia hoped to use the Federalist Society to mainstream “modern originalism,” the concept that American laws and social norms should reflect the norms and expectations of our Founding Fathers.

The Federalist Society – thanks to its rich and powerful connections – held influence in the U.S. government from the moment it was conceived. Since the 1980s, every Republican-appointed attorney general and solicitor general has been handpicked by the group.

Unlike attorneys general, federal judges serve for life, and they have the power to decide which rights we have and which are deemed unconstitutional.

The group caught its biggest break yet when Donald Trump won in 2016. During his presidency, Trump made sure every level of the judicial branch was weaponized by the Federalist Society.

“I announced 11 judges… I got them largely from the Federalist Society.”
Trump on Fox News in May 2017, just four months into his presidency

The Federalist Society, longtime operatives like Leo Leonard (I’ll give you the breakdown on him another time), and mega donors like the Koch brothers are responsible for Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The group essentially owns six-ninths of the Supreme Court.

And their decades of work paid off! We have the Federalist Society to thank for states stripping women of our reproductive care and more rights to come.

But they didn’t start there. The Federal Society’s first big SCOTUS payoff came in the form of setting back gun rights beyond the point of the Constitution.

For over 230 years, the Second Amendment was interpreted as only protecting the right of MILITIAS to own firearms. That changed in 2008 when the Supreme Court decided individual gun ownership is also protected. The Federalist Society spent years collaborating with the NRA to make it happen. Since that SCOTUS decision, annual gun deaths have gone up 54% and school shootings are up 407%.

Why does it matter?

The Federalist Society is not only responsible for rolling back our rights, making American people less safe and putting the interests of billionaires over the interests of the people, they are on track to dismantle democracy as we know it.

While the Federalist Society has been installing federal judges and SCOTUS picks for decades, we are moving into a much more sinister era. Federalist Society Justices like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett are using their lifetime positions to legislate from the bench.

The role of justices is to decide the constitutionality of the law and ensure the American people the promise of equal justice under the law. It is not their role to negate the will of Congress (our true legislative branch) or to push through their extreme-right agenda. SCOTUS is supposed to be a check on the legislative and executive branches, however, the Federalist Society is making a play to override these duly elected bodies and erode our Democracy. We cannot let this happen.

Why hasn’t anyone stopped them?

The answer is simple. The Federalist Society is funded by millions in anonymous, dark-money donations each year. Their donors toss some more money at Republicans in Congress, and their court nominees are confirmed by the Senate.

So, the next time you ask yourself “What is SCOTUS thinking?” or “Why did Republicans fight so hard for alleged rapist Brett Kavanaugh instead of nominating someone else?” You’ll know the answer…

The Federalist Society.

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