For those who don’t know Leonard Leo of Federalist Society infamy has been running a years long, multi-pronged campaign to burnish the image of one Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. When we think of the stacking of the federal courts and SCOTUS in particular with hard-core right wing ideologues Mitch McConnell is who usually comes to mind, but the real driving force behind the whole thing, as well as the coordinated effort to create/file cases and move them through the system to allow legislating from the bench has been Leo.
His Wikipedia page I linked to is instructive to say the least, with this paragraph at the beginning giving you a taste:
“Leo has been instrumental in building a network of influential conservative legal groups funded mostly by anonymous donors, including The 85 Fund and Concord Fund, which serve as funding hubs for affiliated political nonprofits. He assisted Clarence Thomas in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings and led campaigns to support the nominations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.”
Got all that? Oh, and lest we forget deceased Justice Scalia had Federalist Society credentials of his own. I also want to remind people that for all the attention give to SCOTUS decisions, most federal law is interpreted (and increasingly now that Leo’s almost forty year project is in full bloom MADE) at the appellate level. District Court judges can and do have decisions/rulings appealed and appellate courts weigh in but only a handful of cases wind up getting heard by SCOTUS.
The impact Leo, the Federalist Society and numerous other groups (the ones noted above are only the start, as Sheldon Whitehouse who should be Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has tried to tell people) has been staggering. More importantly, when started the goal was to… yes groom young firebrands for the federal bench and ultimately SCOTUS, all the while keeping up a longtime conservative line of whining about “judicial activism” that was bogus. Every single “Justice” listed above was groomed by the Federalist Society and in some cases starting back in law school!
Worse, thanks to Leo and his cohorts with the help of McConnell who held so many federal judgeships vacant (and as it turned out a SCOTUS seat too) in the hopes of a Republican winning in 2016 literally hundreds of as bad or worse lower level federal judges are out there making law in the version of the Constitution that exists in the mind of Leo and The Federalist Society. They talk of going back to the original Constitution but I maintain they want to go all the way back to the failed Articles of Confederation that caused our Constitution to come about. Either way, the vision is to have a handful of rich and powerful men (white of course) making the rules and having the ability to change them whenever they wanted to suit their own mutual desires for more power and riches.
Thanks to Leo’s Federalist Society and other groups he’s been instrumental in creating and “guiding” (by which I mean if not controlling being the key voice in the room) we have a federal court system up to and including SCOTUS that is the very embodiment of the judicial activism he and other conservatives complained about all those decades ago. As many of us thought then, and is proving true now they are just FINE with judicial activism and judges/Justices making law from the bench. As long it’s the activism and law THEY want!
If you weren’t horrified before (I have been and for the better part of two decades after learning more than I wished I’d ever have had to learn about The Federalist Society and its affiliated groups) then if you aren’t now you damned well should be.
It’s going to take a generation just to mitigate the damage. Rolling back just what’s already happened will take more and that’s not the worst of it. This SCOTUS and all those judges are out there itching to do with their rulings what conservatives can’t get done legislatively for at least the next decade! Yes, Biden is getting a lot of good, qualified judges on the federal bench but it’s at the appellate level and SCOTUS that it’s going to take a helluva lot more than ten years to restore proper judicial rulings.
So where does Clarence Thomas fit in? For starters he was an early member of The Federalist Society. Boy was he a prize for them! Not just young and hard core conservative but also a black guy! One with a chip on his shoulder and wanting to be able to dish out some serious payback to those he believed had, if not wronged him at the very least hadn’t given him his due. Less than ten years into their work, The Federalist Society with Leonard Leo greasing the wheels got Thomas nominated to replace the iconic Thurgood Marshall. My how they slapped themselves on the back over THAT one. Thomas was the proverbial photo negative of Marshall.
As we know, his nomination ran into trouble and he was barely confirmed. He sulked, mostly in silence and much was made of his spending years not asking any questions during oral arguments. He wasn’t exactly noted for authoring opinions either. Oh, he’d concur or dissent sometimes but mostly he seemed to just be there as Rehnquist and Scalia did the heavy lifting. Even Alito had more “heft” (I recall the moniker “Scalito” since Alito seemed to spend so much time sucking up to Scalia) But Thomas was biding his time. He was young when appointed and likely to be around for a long (too long!) time and his day would come.
Prior to the 2016 election, with the Federalist Society project decades old and bearing good results there was a quite real possibility that a whole slew of their judges would wind up on the federal bench. And maybe at least one more Justice to water down Kennedy’s “swing vote” in major decisions. (One could make a compelling case things had been in motion to force him out if the GOP recaptured the WH to cement a solid conservative majority on the Court) The point though is that it was time for Thomas to step up. He’d been on the Court longer than any of his conservative brethren except for Scalia and when Antonin Scalia died he WAS the senior member, at least in tenure.
Not so coincidentally in my view, as this article shows Leonard Leo organized and implemented a “Make Clarence Thomas look great” campaign. The centerpiece would be a movie produced by HBO, and from the start of that project in 2016 it came under fire but eventually it would be made and released in 2020. The theme was how awesome Thomas was to have overcome all he did, including the “unfairness” of his confirmation and the subsequent “damage” to his “good name.” A couple of websites, one pro Thomas and one trashing Anita Hill too. And even a pro-Thomas twitter account.
Somehow I missed all that stuff. Ole Leo put a lot of effort and some serious money into it but it didn’t exactly “break through” and alter Thomas image with most of the public for the better. Now of course we do know more about Thomas, just not the kind of stuff Leonard Leo and his cohorts want us to have learned about!
Sadly, tragically even Thomas isn’t about to step down. Any person with an ounce of decency, honor and respect for the law would have and done so long ago. However, those qualities I just cited, or rather the LACK of them are exactly why he’s not going anywhere. He won’t leave SCOTUS until he’s carried out on a stretcher, dead as a doornail! He’s got scores to settle and by God he is going to inflict every ounce of harm he can to make up for his butt-hurt fee fees.
In a just world, what I believe should happen with Thomas and Leo and so many of those Federalist Society tools of the Devil (I know, I’m agnostic but if I doubt the existence of God I see plenty of evidence there is a Devil!) is something I won’t say. I can’t. I’m not a Republican, much less one with connections and my old a$$ would be behind bars faster than the speed of light if I was to spell out even part of what I think these people deserve.
But keep in mind what I mentioned about Leo getting HBO to, even in the face of fierce internal opposition to proceed with their little Thomas Fluffing movie the insidious reach he and his cronies have. As I’ve harped on in recent days (citing the swift change in the narrative about the “complexity” of the charges Trump faces in FL) it extends into the corner offices and boardrooms of media outlets. Into the halls of Congress. And so many other places.
A multi-year, multi-million dollar and multi-pronged effort to polish the turd that is Clarence Thomas’ image is proof we are in desperate struggle for as Presdient Biden puts it “The soul of our Democracy.” Because even if someone hasn’t uncovered it yet, many more such PR campaigns have been implemented.
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