Captured Courts: Senate Dems Call Out GOP For Assault On Judiciary

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Under the cover of dark money from big donors and special interest influence, Republicans have stealthily extended their ideological agenda into what is supposed to be an independent federal judiciary, according to a new report released today from Senate Democrats.

The report, titled Captured Courts: The GOP‘s Big-Money Assault on the Constitution, Our Independent Judiciary, and the Rule of Law, examines a decades-long effort by conservative interests to “fix” the federal court system to serve their political agenda. This effort has accelerated under the Trump administration and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

According to the report, under Trump’s term and supported by anonymously funded outside groups, the Republican-controlled Senate has “confirmed 200 new life-tenured federal judges to aggressively remake the federal courts and rewrite the Constitution.”

Conservative legal groups like the Federalist Society, right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, big business organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and special interest donors like the Koch Foundations and DonorsTrust are all part of a web of influence working to support what the report refers to as Republican court capture.

According to the report, 86 percent of President Trump’s nominees to federal appellate courts have been Federalist Society members, and 80 partisan, 5-4 decisions have come from the Supreme Court’s Republican majority under Chief Justice John Roberts to the benefit of big corporate interests. Access to healthcare, environmental protections, voting rights, and controls on gun violence are some of the societal values under attack by this court capture.

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 Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a lead author of the report.

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,” said Whitehouse.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), joined Senator Whitehouse in preparing the report on behalf of Senate Democrats. The report is a “first step” to expose the dark money and web of influence behind the right-wing court capture.

Main image: U.S. Supreme Court lobby. Credit: R BoedCC by 2.0

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Dana is an environmental journalist focusing on climate change and climate accountability reporting. She writes regularly for DeSmog covering topics such as fossil fuel industry opposition to climate action, climate change lawsuits, greenwashing and false climate solutions, and clean transportation.

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