Leonard A. Leo

URL https://Persagen.com/docs/Leonard_Leo.html
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Source URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Leo
Date published 2021-08-13
Curator Dr. Victoria A. Stuart, Ph.D.
Curation date 2021-08-13
Editorial practice Refer here  |  Dates: yyyy-mm-dd
Summary Leonard Anthony Leo (born November 1965) is an American lawyer and conservative legal activist. He was the longtime vice president of the Federalist Society and is currently, along with Steven Calabresi, the co-chairman of the organization's board of directors. 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.
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Leonard Anthony Leo
Name Leonard Leo
Born 1965
Birthplace Northport, New York, USA
Nationality American
Education Cornell University (BA, JD)
Founder CRC Advisors
Political party Republican Party
Notable associations
Spouse Sally Leo
Children 7

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Leonard Anthony Leo (born November 1965) is an American lawyer and conservative legal activist. He was the longtime vice president of the Federalist Society and is currently, along with Steven Calabresi, the co-chairman of the organization's board of directors.

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.[1] 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.

Early life and education

Leonard Anthony Leo[2] was born on Long Island, New York, in November 1965, and raised in suburban New Jersey. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a vice president of Brooks Brothers.[3][4][5] He grew up in a family of practicing Catholics.[3]

His father died when Leo was in preschool. His mother remarried an engineer when he was five years old, and the family moved to Monroe Township, Middlesex County, New Jersey, where he spent most of his childhood.[3][6] He graduated in 1983 from Monroe Township High School.[7]

Leo attended Cornell University,[4] graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1986, and working as an intern in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch.[3] Leo completed a J.D. degree at Cornell Law School in 1989, then clerked for federal judge A. Raymond Randolph of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.[3][4][8]


Judicial nomination work

While studying law at Cornell, Leo founded a student chapter of the Federalist Society in 1989, and subsequently went to work for the Society in 1991 in Washington, D.C.[3] He met Clarence Thomas while clerking in the Appeals Court, and the two became close friends. Leo delayed his start at the Federalist Society to assist Thomas in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.[4] Leo served at the Federalist Society in various capacities for more than 25 years. In 2019, The Washington Post reported that the Federalist Society had paid Leo an annual salary of more than $400,000 for a number of years.[4]

Bush administration

Leo took leaves of absence from the Federalist Society to assist the Bush administration's judicial nomination and confirmation efforts; this included the confirmations of Miguel Estrada to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.[4][9][10]

Trump administration

In 2017, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote that Leo was "responsible, to a considerable extent, for one third of the justices on the Supreme Court".[11] The Washington Post would later write that "few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leo."[4]

Nomination of Neil Gorsuch

In 2016, Leo worked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block President Barack Obama's replacement appointee, Merrick Garland; Leo's nonprofit, the Judicial Crisis Network reported that it spent more than $7 million to prevent Garland's confirmation.[12] After Donald Trump's election, The New York Times described Leo as playing a "critical role" in reshaping the judiciary through Trump's Supreme Court nominees, first contacting then appellate-judge Neil Gorsuch about potentially nominating him to the vacancy created by Scalia's death.[13][14] Leo's CRC Advisors coordinated "a months-long media campaign" in support of Gorsuch's nomination, including "opinion essays, contributing 5,000 quotes to news stories, scheduling pundit appearances on television," and television and radio advertisements.[12][4][15] Between 2014 and 2017, Leo-affiliated entities raised over $250 million from donors including Charles Koch and Rebekah Mercer.[16][4][17]

Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh

In 2018, Politico reported that Leo had personally lobbied for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy, raising upward of $15 million in support of his confirmation.[18] The Judicial Crisis Network ran television and radio advertisements supporting Kavanaugh's nomination, and CRC advisors "hype a theory that Christine Blasey Ford's accusation - that when they were both in high school, Kavanaugh pushed her on a bed and tried to remove her clothing - was actually a case of mistaken identity".[18]

Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett

In a 2018 interview, when asked about a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court during an election year, Leo stated that "If a vacancy occurs in 2020, the vacancy needs to remain open until a president is elected and inaugurated and can pick. That's my position, period." Leo said he would advise Trump not to act on an election year Supreme Court vacancy, saying he had never asked Trump about the possible scenario, but that it was Leo's opinion that he should not act on a 2020 Supreme Court vacancy, should it arise.[19]

After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Leo was involved in the selection process for Ginsburg's replacement, ultimately resulting in the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett.[20][21]

Conservative network building

Media outlets have described Leo as the "behind-the-scenes leader of a network of interlocking nonprofits that has raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support conservative judges and causes".[22] Groups affiliated with Leo include the Judicial Education Project;[23] the Concord Fund (formerly the Judicial Crisis Network);[23] the Marble Freedom Trust;[24] and the Rule of Law Trust, among others.[25] The Marble Freedom Trust received a $1.6 billion donation from Illinois businessman Barre Seid, described as "the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history".[24][26]

An October 2022 article by Kenneth P. Vogel in The New York Times detailed how Leo, who had been best known for his role in conservative judicial appointments, developed a larger coalition on the right. In January 2020, Leo announced that he would be leaving his position as vice president at the Federalist Society to start a new group, CRC Advisors, a conservative political consulting firm.[27][28] Leo remained in his role as co-chairman of the Federalist Society's board of directors.[28]

Vogel wrote that Leo had built "one of the best-funded and most sophisticated operations in American politics, giving him extraordinary influence as he pushes a broad array of hot-button conservative causes and seeks to counter what he sees as an increasing leftward tilt in society."[29] In 2023, ProPublica described Leo's activism, namely through the Teneo Network, as focusing on "'woke-ism' in corporations and education, 'one-sided journalism' and 'entertainment that's really corrupting our youth."[30] The Teneo Network consists of various loosely affiliated non-profit and for-profit entities which spent nearly $504 million between mid-2015 and 2021; two for-profit firms Leo at least partly controls, BH Group and CRC Advisors, are compensated by funding hubs in his network, The 85 Fund and the Concord Fund.[29][1]

In 2011 and 2012, Leo arranged for Liberty Consulting, owned by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to be paid $80,000 by The Polling Company, owned by Kellyanne Conway and billed through the Judicial Education Project.[31] Leo directed Conway not to mention Ginni Thomas in paperwork, telling The Washington Post, "The Polling Company, along with Ginni Thomas' help, has been an invaluable resource for gauging public attitudes," and that "Knowing how disrespectful, malicious and gossipy people can be, I have always tried to protect the privacy of Justice Thomas and Ginni."[22]

In June 2023, ProPublica reported that Leo helped organize and attended a fishing trip with Justice Samuel Alito and businessman Paul Singer, whose firms later were parties to litigation before the Supreme Court.[32]

Politico reported in August 2023 that the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Brian Schwalb, was investigating Leo and his network of nonprofit groups.[33]

Religious work

Leo was national co-chairman of Catholic outreach for the Republican National Committee, and as the 2004 Bush presidential campaign's Catholic strategist. He was appointed by President George W. Bush and the United States Senate to three terms on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.[34]

He is a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.[35][36]

In 2012, Leo served on the boards of the Catholic Association and its affiliate Catholic Association Foundation, which ran campaigns opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.[4] In 2016, Leo received $120,000 for his work for the Catholic Association.[4]

While Leo was the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a Muslim policy analyst filed a complaint against the group with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that she had been the victim of anti-Muslim discrimination.[37] Leo denied the claims of discrimination against the organization, and no specific claims were made regarding Leo.[38] The EEOC complaint was dismissed.[38]

Other appointments and work

He has been a US delegate to the United Nations Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and World Health Assembly. Leo has been an observer at the World Intellectual Property Organization and as a member of the US National Commission to UNESCO.[39][40]

Leo has been published in The New York Times,   The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post.[41][42][43] He received the 2009 Bradley Prize.[44]

Leo has been on the board of directors of various organizations such as Reclaim New York, a charity with ties to conservative activists Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon; Liberty Central, a charity founded by Virginia Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas; the Catholic Association and an affiliated charity, the Catholic Association Foundation; The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast; the Becket Law Fund; Students for Life; the Napa Legal Institute; the Youth Leadership Foundation; and the Board of Visitors at The Busch School of Business at Catholic University.[4][39][45][46][47][40][48][49]

Leo is a member of the Council for National Policy, whose other members include Virginia Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas; Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center; and Ralph Reed, chairman of the nonprofit Faith and Freedom Coalition.[50]

In filings with the Federal Election Commission, Leo listed the BH Group as his employer.[4] In 2018, the Judicial Crisis Network reported paying BH Group $1.2 million in fees.[51][4] In its first two years of existence, the BH Group received more than $4 million from the Judicial Crisis Network, its sister entity the Judicial Education Project and a third nonprofit, the Wellspring Committee.[4] Leo is also the president of the Freedom and Opportunity Fund.[4]

In 2016, after the death of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Leo helped finance the renaming of George Mason University's Law School to the Antonin Scalia Law School.[52]

Personal life

Leo is Roman Catholic.[4] He has seven children with his wife, Sally.[4] Their daughter Margaret died in 2007 at the age of 14 from spina bifida.[3] Leo has spoken about the profound impact her life had on him.[3][53][54] Leo is a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order.[55][56]

Leo has a summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where he has been the target of periodic protests due to his legal advocacy opposing abortion.[57] In the weeks following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, protests were held there on an almost daily basis.[58]


  • Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2004), co-editor, ISBN 978-0743274081. Leo co-edited this volume with James Taranto.

  • References

    Additional Reading

  • [📌 pinned article] How Leonard Leo Weaponized the Courts Against Democracy.  The Federalist Society uses billionaire funds and right-wing ideology to remake the law.

  • [📌 pinned article] [ProPublica.org, 2023-10-11] We Don't Talk About Leonard: The Man Behind the Right's Supreme Court Supermajority.  The inside story of how Leonard Leo built a machine that remade the American legal system - and what he plans to do next.

  • Honest Elections Project

  • [📌 pinned article] [OpenSecrets.org, 2020-05-27] Honest Elections Project: Conservative "dark money" network rebranded to push voting restrictions before 2020 election.

  • [📌 pinned article] [Popular.info, 2022-09-12] The radical legal theory that could upend the 2024 election.  |  independent state legislature theory

  • Anti-abortion advocacy: Ohio Issue 1 (2023)

  • [OhioCapitalJournal.com, 2023-11-02] U.S. Representative Jim Jordan issues warning to Washington D.C. Attorney General investigating conservative donor Leonard Leo.

  • [Truthout.org, 2023-10-31] Leonard Leo's Network Has Spent $18M on Opposing Abortion Rights in Ohio Alone.  The $18 million accounts for nearly 60 percent of funding that key abortion rights groups have raised to oppose Ohio Issue 1 (2023).

  • [Jacobin.com, 2023-10-30] Conservatives Are Attacking Abortion Rights at the State Level. After overturning Roe v. Wade last year, conservatives are now chipping away at abortion access at the state level. At the helm is a dark money network led by right-wing activists, which has so far spent $18 million on opposing reproductive justice in Ohio.

  • [LeverNews.com, 2023-10-27] Leonard Leo's Fight Against Abortion Access.  Leo's dark money network has spent $18 million opposing the campaign to enshrine abortion rights in Ohio's constitution.

  • [ProPublica, 2023-10-23] Trump's Court Whisperer Had a State Judicial Strategy. Its Full Extent Only Became Clear Years Later.  Conservative activist Leonard Leo helped elect a judge in Wisconsin. Without him, the GOP feared their agenda would be "toast," according to an email.

  • Other Leonard Leo news

  • [Politico.com, 2023-12-03] ‘Plain historical falsehoods’: How amicus briefs bolstered Supreme Court conservatives .  A POLITICO review indicates most conservative briefs in high-profile cases have links to a small cadre of activists aligned with Leonard Leo.

  • [NPR.org, 2022-08-12] This conservative group helped push a disputed election theory.

  • [NewRepublic.com, 2022-07-11] How Leonard Leo Became the Grey Cardinal of the American Right.  The Federalist Society kingpin has exerted more influence on the country's rightward drift than almost anyone in conservative circles, including presidents. He's not done by a long shot.

  • [ExposedByCMD.org, 2021-10-04] ALEC Leaders Boast About Anti-Abortion, Anti-Trans Bills.

  • [ExposedByCMD.org, 2021-08-03] Group Run by Trump's "Judge Whisperer" Leonard Leo Provides More Than a Third of RAGA's Revenue So Far in 2021
  • [PRWatch.org, 2020-10-10] Snapshot of Secret Funding of Amicus Briefs Tied to Leonard Leo -- Federalist Society Leader, Promoter of Amy Barrett. A new review of grant documents, first published on the dark web, provides a snapshot of how groups tied to Leonard A. Leo -- the man who put Amy Coney Barrett on President Trump's list for the Supreme Court - have been secretly funded to file briefs with the Supreme Court to overturn U.S. laws, including the Affordable Care Act.

  • [OpenSecrets.org, 2019-05-23] Wellspring Committee: An influential 'dark money' group turns off the lights for the last time

  • [2018-07-06]:  The anti-abortion conservative quietly guiding Trump's supreme court pick, Leonard Leo -- who is advising Trump on his nominee -- is a mild-mannered Republican who has become one of the Washington's most influential people.

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