Senate Democrats take on GOP court-packing in blistering new report

The senators pointed to conservative activist Leonard Leo as the driving force behind the many of the president's appointments.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during a press conference at the Capitol on May 5, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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By Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new report on Republican efforts to pack the courts with conservative-leaning judges and the outsized influence of one conservative activist.

"Our report exposes a twisted web of dark money, and special interest groups who behind the scenes are investing millions and millions to plant ideological activist judges completely remake the courts, and ultimately rewrite the Constitution," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

As part of their report, the senators pointed to activist Leonard Leo, the former head of the conservative Federalist Society, as the driving force behind the many of the president's appointments, including Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

During the 2016 campaign, Leo and the Federalist Society gave then-candidate Trump a list of Supreme Court nominees, which Trump later made public to win over the support of mainstream Republicans.

The report — which is the first of several — details Leo’s "special interest dark money" that Democrats say will build on Republicans’ push to restructure the courts in the coming years. Leo "has also managed a secretive network of right-wing nonprofits that have raised over 250 million dollars," Schumer said.

The report comes as Democrats inch closer to the November election when they will try to retake both the Senate and the White House. The senators acknowledge that while it's not unusual for Republican presidents to appoint conservative judges, the scale and speed at which Trump has done so, is remarkable. The Senate has confirmed around 200 of Trump's judicial picks.

"The pervasiveness of power, and frankly the effectiveness of this court captured courts machine that has been put in place over the decades with greater and greater effectiveness comes out in this report in a way it's never been seen before," Schumer.