DPCC Report: Stabenow, Schumer, Whitehouse Unveil Report Detailing GOP’s Big-Money Assault on the Constitution, Our Independent Judiciary, and the Rule of Law

May 27, 2020

Senators lead effort to highlight right-wing assault on federal judiciary

Decades-old scheme is perpetrated through a complex network of anonymously funded groups like the Federalist Society and spearheaded by right-wing activists, particularly Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

READ A ONE-PAGE SUMMARY HERE 

Today, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) led Senate Democrats in issuing a new report exposing how Republicans and their special interest backers are packing the federal judiciary with extremist partisan judges to deliver reliably for Republican donor interests. The 54-page report, compiled by Senator Whitehouse and the DPCC, is the first step in a Senate Democratic push to highlight the decades-old, dark-money-funded effort by groups like the Federalist Society to achieve in the courts what right-wing ideologues cannot achieve in Congress or the executive.

“On issue after issue, Republicans are doing everything they can to use the courts to achieve an extreme agenda that does not match the needs or wishes of the majority of Americans. When Republicans could not repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress, they voted to confirm at least 20 Trump judges who have publicly criticized the law or advocated for its repeal. And then the Trump Administration went to court to get the ACA repealed,” said Senator Stabenow. “The last thing American families need or want are more right-wing judges who are being directed to take away their health care. Our report shines a bright light on what’s happening to the independence of our courts and why.”

“Over the last three years, instead of focusing on legislation to help the American people, Leader McConnell and President Trump have dedicated almost every ounce of their energy and focus to packing the courts with right-wing ideologues who they know will do their bidding from the bench,” said Senator Schumer. “Today’s report and campaign highlight how Leader McConnell has been the country’s top lobbyist for dark money and special interests groups, doing the bidding of a cabal of billionaires instead of working with Democrats on COVID-19 legislation or any of the numerous House-passed bills that would expand and improve health care, address the gun violence epidemic, strengthening voting rights and more.”

Decades ago, big corporations and right-wing ideologues figured out that judges with life tenure can carry out their unpopular agenda and cement those political victories for decades,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Today, right-wing donor interests funnel hundreds of millions of anonymous dollars through a complex web of front groups to achieve things Republicans can’t get past voters. Polluters are more free to pollute; gun makers can sell more guns; regulated industries enjoy weaker oversight; unlimited dark money floods elections; unwelcome voters are suppressed at the polls. Our report shows how this crooked scheme works and signals a new effort by Senate Democrats to push back.”

The Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republicans have few significant legislative accomplishments.  Instead, they are packing the judiciary with far-right extremist judges. The Senate has confirmed 200 new life-tenured federal judges, most of whom were chosen not for their qualifications or experience—that are often lacking—but for their allegiance to Republican political goals.  Trump judges are not chosen because of their allegiance to conservative legal doctrine, like respect for precedent and an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution; they are picked because Republican donors expect Trump judges will rule in their favor.

The right-wing court capture scheme is already delivering for key Republican donor interests.  Chief Justice Roberts and the other Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court have handed down 80 partisan 5-4 decisions benefiting the GOP and its donors.  Those decisions represent policy wins Republicans in other branches of government cannot achieve for fear of blowback from voters. 

The right-wing rout at the Supreme Court has contributed to Americans’ perception of the courts as political.  According to a Quinnipiac poll last year, 55 percent of American voters say the Supreme Court is “motivated by politics,” while only 38 percent say it is “motivated mainly by the law.”

Indeed, right-wing court capture means that voters across the country wait in line for hours to vote; special interests flood our airways with political ads; workers have discrimination cases thrown out of court; communities cannot regulate gun violence; polluters can pollute our air and water without consequence; and access to healthcare, including protections for pre-existing conditions, remains under attack.

The Senate Democrats’ report shows how Republican court capture has been perpetrated through a complex network of anonymously funded groups like the Federalist Society and spearheaded by right-wing activists, particularly Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo.  Their web consists of:

  1. Deep-pocketed, special-interest donors, who provide the money;
  2. Shell entities, which funnel the money and exploit tax laws to keep donors’ identities secret;
  3. Public relations firms and political operatives who run multi-million-dollar ad campaigns to support and oppose judges and generate press to craft favorable public narratives; and
  4. A brain trust of ideological think tanks, academic institutions, and “public interest” law firms, filled with lawyers and professors who generate “intelectual capital”—law review articles, amicus briefs, and so on—to advance the donors’ interests through the courts.

A full copy of the report is available here. 

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