Last week I wrote about the Government Reorganization Plan in "When in doubt, rearrange the furniture" and mentioned how many of the proposals contained within it and the people shaping the policy have come out of the Heritage Society. Not only are groups like the Heritage Society and the Federalist Society shaping policy, they have had a pivotal role in advising Trump on judicial appointees.
Given last week’s disastrous Supreme Court decisions on the Muslim ban and Janus v. Afscme and the retirement of Justice Kennedy, now's a good time to remind ourselves of what the two groups mentioned above are all about.
The Heritage Foundation
Who: Current president – Kay Coles James
What: a conservative think tank
Where: Based in Washington D.C.
When: Formed in 1973
Why: “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.
A bit about two of the co-founders:
Joseph Coors: In the 1970’s he barred trade unions from his plants and after a prolonged strike with the Brewery Workers Union, required new employees to take lie-detector tests. Coors set up the Mountain State Legal Foundation, which was headed by James Watt (U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Reagan) after a law banned moving toxic aluminum waste from aluminum can production across state lines. They dismantled toxic waste disposal laws, in particular those affecting aluminum cans. During the Reagan administration, Coors privately spent $65,000 to buy a cargo plane for the Contras with the money going through Oliver North.
Paul Weyrich: Weyrich is also one of the co-founders of ALEC. He coined the term “moral majority” and co-founded the Moral Majority PAC with Jerry Falwell. Weyrich’s right-hand man was Laszlo Pasztor, a former leader of the pro-Nazi party in Hungary, which had collaborated with Hitler’s Reich. He is also known to have express anti-gay sentiments.
The Heritage Foundation gained prominence during the Reagan administration. Reagan credited the organization with being a “vital force” in the success of his presidency. The Heritage Foundation was key in developing the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” in which the U.S. provided military support to anti-communist resistance movements. The foundation also supported the Strategic Defense Initiative, an anti-ballistic weapons defense system that Reagan made his top defense priority in the early 80’s.
The group was considered a foreign policy “brain trust” during both the Reagan and Bush administrations. Heritage opposed President Clinton’s health care plan of 1993, but his welfare reform plans were similar to those proposed by the group. The Heritage Foundation was also behind Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in 1994, which many argue helped create a Republican majority in Congress.
Another person associated with the foundation, Jason Richwine, who wrote the group’s report on the costs of amnesty, once argued that blacks and Hispanics are intellectually inferior to whites and have trouble assimilating because of a genetic pre-disposition to having low IQ’s.
It is being described as having a major influence on the Trump administration, including advising on staffing. At least 66 foundation employees and alumni got positions in the administration. The Heritage Foundation recommended Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, and Jeff Sessions.
The Federalist Society
Who: Current president – Eugene B. Meyer
What: “a conservative and libertarian intellectual network” (their own description) who want to reform the U.S. legal system in accordance with an originalist interpretation of the Constitution
Where: Based in Washington D.C.
When: Formed in 1982
Why: “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense” and “reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. It also requires restoring the recognition of the importance of these norms among lawyers, judges, law students and professors” (from www.fedsoc.org)
Founders: former Reagan administration Attorney General Ed Meese and Robert Bork
Notable members: Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Senators Ted Cruz and Orin Hatch, and Kenneth Starr
The goal of the Federalist Society appears to be to influence policy not only by changing law but by shaping the ideology of lawyers themselves. Its focus is on networking and mentoring conservative attorneys. Here’s a quote from their website: “Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law.” The society’s founding principle is that the state exists to preserve freedom and “that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.” In short, the Federalist Society seeks to limit government to only what the Constitution states in should be.
As recently as May of this year, the Federalist Society hosted an event called, “examining the legality of the Mueller investigation”, where one of the speakers argued that the investigation is unconstitutional.
The society has been highly influential in the Trump administration. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is said to have been “hand-picked” by the Federalist Society along with many conservative judges Trump has nominated for the federal judiciary. Leonard Leo, who is currently Trump’s outside advisor on judicial nominees and was responsible for Gorsuch, is currently on leave of absence as executive vice-president of the society so that he can assist in choosing the nominee to fill the vacancy created last week by Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Leo is said to have compiled the list of potential nominees to fill Kennedy’s seat. Here’s the list:
If you have the time (and the stomach) google some of the names on the list. Many of their rulings are decidedly right of center and many come down in ways that fail to protect “the little guy”. What is most striking is that they are predominantly male, predominantly white, and most importantly - young. Patrick Wyrick, for example, is just 37 years old. That last point tells you everything you need to know. Make no mistake, this list of nominees is designed to remake the court into the extremist far right vision that conservatives have been dreaming of, one that will consolidate the power of all three branches of government in the hands of one party, and one that will impact our nation for decades to come – literally. And we know what’s at stake: a woman’s right to choose, health care, the Mueller investigation, voting rights, civil rights, and fair political districting. The majority of the country supports Roe v. Wade, and in the last 6 presidential elections the popular vote was won by the Democrats, yet we are on the brink of having our democracy controlled by the minority view, one that neither reflects the majority ideologically nor demographically. Remember the judiciary's role is to provide check and balance on the other branches of government, not a rubber stamp!
posted by Amy Levengood