The man behind the conservative effort to move the judiciary to the right has ties to many of the groups and people arguing that Donald Trump should stay on the ballot in a case heard before the US supreme court this week.
Leonard Leo’s advocacy and financial network played a major role in Trump’s judicial nominations and confirmation hearings as part of his years-long push to make the courts more friendly to conservatives and their causes. Justice Clarence Thomas once joked that Leo was the “No 3 most powerful person in the world”.
Leo is the co-chairman of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that counts five of the current nine justices as current or former members. He also heads a well-funded financial network that works to advance rightwing causes, having received a massive $1.6bn donation to boost his work. His maneuvers have been part of the recent scandals at the supreme court, including a payment he directed to be paid to Thomas’s wife, Ginni, the Washington Post reported in 2023.
Through this extensive network, he is tied to several of the filers of amicus briefs in the 14th amendment case that could prevent Trump from running for re-election. In those briefs, a variety of conservative groups argue against Trump’s removal, aligning with Trump’s arguments that he should remain on the ballot.
The consequential case has brought in amicus briefs on both sides from outside groups, historians, law professors and elected officials, who’ve parsed through legal language and the implications of removing a presidential candidate from the running.
According to research by Accountable.US, a non-profit that focuses on calling attention to special interests in US politics, Leo has ties – including professional associations, funding through his own groups or those he’s exchanged money with, and allies in the Federalist Society – to a handful of groups that filed amicus briefs against Trump’s removal.
The ties are part of a pattern, documented by Politico, of Leo himself and his network being connected to amicus briefs in high-profile supreme court cases in recent years. The Politico review also found “multiple instances of language used in the amicus briefs appearing in the court’s opinions”.
In this instance, Accountable.US found ties between Leo and the following groups or their lawyers that filed amicus briefs in the 14th amendment case: Citizens United, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, the Claremont Institute, Landmark Legal Foundation, Judicial Watch, Jones Day, Wyoming’s secretary of state Chuck Gray and America’s Future.
Citizens United, a conservative group whose name is synonymous with the 2010 supreme court ruling that allows unlimited political spending by outside groups and corporations, filed a brief alongside Steven Calabresi, Leo’s fellow co-chair of the Federalist Society. Other lawyers tied to the society are signed on to the group’s brief as well.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation’s brief is co-filed with a man who has been featured in more than 100 Federalist Society events, and the group has received funding from groups tied to Leo. The Claremont Institute has also received funds from groups tied to Leo’s funding network, and the brief’s author wrote a book that includes a quote from Leo on the back cover and featured in society events.
Leo has complimented the chairman of the Landmark Legal Foundation as a “great patriot” and “our old Federalist Society stalwart”. The Judicial Watch president is also president of the Council for National Policy, which Leo has reportedly been involved with. Jones Day, a conservative law firm whose attorneys authored an amicus brief for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has given money to the Federalist Society, and the firm is where Leo, Trump and others met to come up with a list of supreme court candidates.
The lawyers who filed Wyoming secretary of state Gray’s brief include a Federalist Society contributor who’s received a fellowship from the group. America’s Future has gotten funding from a group that’s exchanged millions with Leo’s financial network.
“It’s no surprise that Leonard Leo is backing efforts to support Trump at the supreme court,” said Accountable.US president Caroline Ciccone. “Leo helped Trump draw up his supreme court nominee shortlist – many of whom are justices on the bench set to hear this critical case – and now, Leo’s deploying his rightwing network in support of Trump as he faces consequences for his violent insurrection. It couldn’t be clearer where Leo stands.”