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Fair Courts E-Lert: The Washington Post Analyzes Leonard Leo’s Influence on the Federal Judiciary

Our latest Fair Courts E-Lert highlights a Washington Post article on Leonard Leo’s influence on the federal judiciary, a recent report by Court Watch NOLA, and more.

June 7, 2019


Leonard Leo

Federal Courts

The Washington Post Analyzes Leonard Leo’s Influence on the Federal Judiciary

The Washington Post recently analyzed the outsized influence of Leonard Leo, the Executive Vice President of the conservative law group the Federalist Society, and the “unofficial judicial advisor” to President Trump, in reshaping the federal bench.

According to The Post, Leo is “the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges.” These organizations are often “dark money” nonprofits, which do not have to disclose their donors to the IRS. “Between 2014 and 2017 alone,” Leo and his allies raised over $250 million in donations for such organizations, and “[that] money was used in part to support conservative policies and judges, through advertising and through funding for groups whose executives appeared as television pundits.”

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), formerly the Judicial Confirmation Network, has been key to Leo’s efforts to reshape the judiciary. For a dozen years, JCN has used multimillion-dollar infusions from shadowy donors to support putting conservative judges on state, local, and federal benches, including a reported $7 million to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, and $10 million to back the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The “[t]he ties between JCN and Leo are opaque,” according to The Post.


State Courts

Court Watch NOLA Report Says Judge Directed Defendants to Campaign Contributor’s Ankle-Monitoring Company

A criminal court judge in New Orleans directed defendants to an ankle monitoring company owned by contributors to his campaigns, according to a new report by Court Watch NOLA (CWN).

The report found that between 2008 and 2018, Judge Paul Bonin received over $8,000 from ETOH Monitoring, LLC executives in campaign financing, and a $1,000 campaign loan in 2016. Judge Bonin “was found to have steered defendants to the ETOH for ankle monitoring in 23 cases.”

According to the report, “Judge Bonin refused to release the defendants from jail [on several occasions] until the defendant’s family had arranged for ETOH to set up ankle monitoring services.” And of the five criminal court judges who received money from ETOH executives, the ABA Journal reports that “Bonin is the only judge to require defendants to use an ankle monitor from a specific company.”

After being contacted by CWN, Judge Bonin notified the attorneys of five defendants in his court currently using ETOH ankle monitors to tell them they are free to switch to monitors provided by an alternative company.


Attacks on the Judiciary

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Calls for Reforms to Balance Judicial Accountability and Independence

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente co-authored an article with Melanie Kalmanson analyzing recent efforts to remove state judges following a judicial decision, and recommending potential reforms to appropriately balance judicial accountability and independence.

Pariente and Kalmanson highlight efforts to oust justices due to lawful judicial decisions, including striking down a state ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, as threats to judicial independence. These campaigns, Pariente and Kalmanson said, are often funded by opaque special interest groups and endanger “the role of the judiciary in our democracy.” Moreover, “[j]urists should not perceive a potential threat to their position if they rule in a way that is unpopular, or out of step with public opinion, special interests, or the other political branches.”

Instead of “campaigns to remove judges who render [unpopular] decisions,” Pariente and Kalmanson recommend “ensuring compliance with codes of judicial conduct and imposing consequences for misconduct” through the state’s judicial qualifications committee. They also recommend charging independent nonpartisan judicial evaluation commissions “with periodically evaluating each judge on the basis of objective, appropriate criteria, such as … integrity, professional competence, judicial temperament, experience, and service.” Pariente and Kalmanson further suggest considering “the elimination of merit-retention elections in favor of one lengthy term.”


Trump Criticizes Federal Judge Who Temporarily Blocked Construction of Sections of Border Wall Using Department of Defense Funds

U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the Northern District of California recently issued an order temporarily blocking the use of Defense Department funds for the construction of sections of the southern border wall. In his ruling, Gilliam observed that “the position that when Congress declines the Executive’s request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds “without Congress” does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic.”

“Although [the] ruling does not prevent the Trump administration from using funds from other sources to build the projects,” according to CNN, “it’s a setback for the President on a signature agenda item.”

In response to Gilliam’s ruling, Trump tweeted, “Another activist Obama appointed judge has just ruled against us on a section of the Southern Wall that is already under construction. This is a ruling against Border Security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking. We are asking for an expedited appeal!”

Trump’s remark is one in a pattern of attacks against judges and the judicial system in response to rulings he disagrees with.