Dark Money and the Courts

The Right-Wing Takeover of the Judiciary

Dark Money and the Courts

The Far Right is pursuing an audacious effort to capture America’s courts. Fueled by $250 million in secret “dark money” contributions, they seek to enact a radical social and economic agenda they could never achieve legislatively. This page shares reporting on the secret donor network behind the Far Right’s attempt to turn the judiciary into a tool for partisan and corporate interests. Learn more, including what you can do to protect a fair judiciary.



Investigation: Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, and the Right’s Campaign to Remake the Nation’s Courts

A new Washington Post exposé, building on research supported by ACS, documents how $250 million in dark money has allowed the far right to engage in an ongoing, multiyear effort to accomplish through the courts what they failed to do legislatively.

Read the article to learn how the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo orchestrates these millions to get judges confirmed. In Trump, Leo saw someone to help accomplish his “long-held” goal: “A federal court system dominated by conservative judges who believe the Constitution must be interpreted literally.”


Caroline Fredrickson and Lisa Graves in National Law Journal

On Dark Money and the Right’s Judicial ‘Revival’

Leonard Leo sits at the center of an almost $250 million network of dark money groups working to fill our courts with men and women (but mostly men) who will roll back the clock on our laws and our democracy. Read full piece on Law.com

Jamal Greene in Slate

Trump’s Judge Whisperer Promised to Take Our Laws Back to the 1930s

In the 1930s, the courts were fully complicit in maintaining the country as a thoroughgoing ethnocracy, governed openly for the benefit of white men. Public schools in 21 states were racially segregated by law. “Separate but equal” schools had been affirmed by the Supreme Court as late as 1927, in a unanimous decision allowing Mississippi to kick a Chinese American girl out of her local “white” school for being a member of the “yellow” race. The outlawing of segregation is settled law in our country, and nobody would dare dream of returning to those antiquated judicial interpretations, you might say? Several of Trump’s judicial nominees have conspicuously, outrageously, refused to say whether they thought Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal school segregation in 1954, was correctly decided. Read the full piece in Slate.

Listen: Briefing Call on ACS Research and The Washington Post’s Dark Money Exposé

ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, Lisa Graves, and Jamal Greene discuss the new exposé by The Washington Post, which documents a well-financed network of wealthy donors who install judges sympathetic to a far-right agenda. The Post’s reporting builds on research supported by ACS; contributing researchers and experts will discuss the implications of the far-right’s strategy on the courts and for future nominations fights, and how to defend our courts from attacks to core freedoms and principles.


Watch: Discussion on Supreme Court Capture

The Supreme Corp. Have Corporate and Right-Wing Interests Captured the Court?
In the era of Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed justices have delivered landmark victories for corporate and right-wing interests in dozens of cases, like Citizens United v. FEC, Shelby County v. Holder, and Janus v. AFCSME. Have the conservative justices on the Court been effectively “captured” by these corporate and right-wing interests? If so, what role has the nominations process played and what can be done to reverse this trend and ensure the Court serves only the interest of impartiality, objectivity, and the rule of law?

Watch the discussion of Supreme Court capture, featuring keynote remarks by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, author of the recently published ACS Issue Brief A Right-Wing Rout: What the “Roberts Five” Decisions Tell Us About the Integrity of Today’s Supreme Court.


What You Can Do

People across America are working together to oppose the right-wing plan to capture our courts and enact a radical social and economic agenda. Here’s how you can join this effort.

America has both state and federal court systems. Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. State judges gain office in different ways in each state, often involving a mix of appointments and elections.

Federal Courts

The Senate is confirming the Trump administration’s judicial nominees at a breakneck speed. To do so, they are ignoring the traditional vetting process that is used to identify and confirm well-qualified nominees.

1. Visit, call, and/or email your Senators’ offices to tell them courts matter to you and ask them what they’re doing to ensure the impartiality of the federal judiciary.

2. Host an event on the importance of courts, judicial vacancies, and the confirmation process with your local ACS Chapter and local organizations (affinity bars, NAACP chapters, Why Courts Matter, local unions, etc.).

3. Reach out to local radio and television stations in your towns and universities (yes, even you, students!). Speak to your communities about the importance of the courts through reliable and proven avenues of communication.
4. Submit an op-ed or letter to the editor to your local paper on what is at stake with these lifetime appointments.
5. Talk to your friends and family about the need to protect the federal judiciary. Post about the importance of the courts on your social media accounts using #courtsmatter.
6. Follow ACS on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for updates on Trump’s transformation of the judiciary.
7. Donate to ACS to ensure we can continue our important work.

State Courts

1. If you are not already familiar with how your state selects judges, visit this resource from the Brennan Center to learn more.
2. If your state uses appointments by the governor or legislature, you can use many of the techniques mentioned above with respect to the federal process to make your voice heard.
3. If your state uses elections (as most do in some way), educate yourself about the candidates and share your opinions with friends, neighbors and colleagues.