American Juris Link, a new right-wing legal center with close ties to the State Policy Network, is actively working to track and support right-wing legal challenges to upend COVID-19 health restrictions, fight workers’ rights to unionize, and coordinate legal strategies and amici.
Originally registered as an independent nonprofit under the name “Litigators for Liberty” in late 2019, American Juris Link (AJL) was “incubated by the State Policy Network” (SPN) based on “extensive strategic planning” and “input from leading litigators and philanthropists,” according to a job listing with the right-wing head-hunting firm Talent Market.
In an SPN webinar titled, “Protecting American Freedom Through Strategic Litigation,” AJL’s founder and president Carrie Ann Donnell describes AJL as “basically like the SPN for litigators.” SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
AJL’s Donnell also serves as director of the Federalist Society‘s Pro Bono Resource Center. The Federalist Society is the nation’s most influential right-wing legal organization with deep ties to the conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court. Its board Co-Chair, Leonard Leo, has been dubbed the “judge whisperer” for his strong influence on Trump’s more than 200 judicial picks.
SPN’s executive vice president Tony Woodlief, Ballotpedia’s publisher Leslie Graves, and Rule of Law Defense Fund‘s executive director Peter Bisbee all serve on the board of AJL. The Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) is the sister organization of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), a cash-for-influence operation that coordinates the activities of Republican state attorneys general and sells access to those AGs and their staff to its corporate funders. RLDF and RAGA were recently exposed for their roles in supporting the violent pro-Trump insurrection on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Fighting COVID-19 Public Health Efforts
Since the beginning of the pandemic, AJL has assisted numerous organizations in filing lawsuits to upend public health restrictions put in place in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. It holds a “regularly scheduled COVID Litigation Roundtable” for strategizing and collaborating against COVID orders, and has partnered with Ballotpedia to create a COVID-19 lawsuit tracker of every court case challenging public health orders due to the pandemic, funded by a $41,000 grant from DonorsTrust, the Koch political network’s preferred donor conduit. DonorsTrust also disclosed a contribution of $45,000 to AJL on its 2019 IRS filing.
In a September 2020 newsletter, AJL highlights the following ways its allies have utilized the database:
Evaluate the merits of bringing constitutional challenges to mask ordinances;
Survey the landscape of cases that challenge bans on tenant evictions;
Add case cites to pending lawsuits that challenge Executive orders; and
Develop legislative recommendations for limiting state emergency powers.
AJL also touts that it helped find local counsel for “COVID-related lawsuits.”
In Massachusetts, AJL secured the Pacific Legal Foundation’s help in trying to overturn a moratorium that prevented landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic. The case was ultimately dismissed.
AJL also aided Libby Sobic at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in finding local counsel and signees for an amicus brief arguing that federal CARES Act relief funds should be doled out in the states to private schools more equally.
It also hooked up with the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a right-wing litigation outfit that fights to purge voter rolls and spreads misinformation around voter fraud, to block efforts to improve access to absentee ballots in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Supporting Right-Wing Union Crushing Efforts
AJL has assisted in a number of cases to support the movement to weaken unions.
In 2020, AJL worked to support SPN’s Ohio affiliate, the Buckeye Institute, in its unsuccessful attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take an appeal in Reisman v. Associated Faculties of the University of Maine. The case had attempted to overturn the longstanding practice of allowing democratically elected public-sector unions to exclusively represent employees in negotiations over pay and working conditions.
The group “recruited” the Maine Policy Institute (formerly the Maine Heritage Policy Center) to file a supporting brief and “secured” 12 additional amicus groups, many of which are SPN members, to sign on, according to a March 2020 newsletter.
AJL also helps match groups working to convince union members to drop out of their unions with lawyers aligned with their mission.
Bradley Foundation Provides Start-Up Funds
AJL is not required to reveal its donors by law, and its only available Internal Revenue Service filing acquired by CMD shows it brought in $146,000 in revenue in 2019. However, the Bradley Foundation has disclosed providing AJL with $100,000 “for start-up support” in 2020.
Bradley has long emphasized the funding of litigation efforts as part of its larger strategy to weaponize philanthropy to build up a right-wing infrastructure, as CMD exposed in its 2017 Bradley Files investigation.
In 2014, the Bradley Foundation provided $350,000 in seed money for Clint Bolick’s “initiative to create a state litigation alliance,” Bradley internal files examined by CMD show. Bolick was vice president for litigation at the SPN-affiliated Goldwater Institute at the time. Donnell was an attorney at Goldwater “who helped launch the first state-based litigation center” alongside Bolick. Today, Bolick sits on the Arizona Supreme Court.
The state litigation alliance “helps research and identify those states that have greatest potential for advancing state-constitutional law – then trains and, if asked, mentors attorneys who can either lead or staff existing or newly-created legal centers elsewhere, with an intensive ‘litigation boot camp’ for interested conscripts,” Bradley staff wrote.
In all, Bradley contributed $600,000 (2014-2015) to the state litigation alliance for its “great potential” to “maximize[e] the benefit of Bradley’s much other recent strategic grantmaking to improve conservative infrastructures,” a grant history record states.
AJL appears to be another attempt by Bradley to realize that goal.
Bradley has also demonstrated interest in funding amicus projects, and AJL promotes the organizing of amicus signers and briefs.
In addition to Bradley, the Charles Koch Foundation disclosed $20,000 “for future payment” to AJL on its 2019 IRS fling.
Strategic Partnership with SPN
SPN President and CEO Tracie Sharp praised the new partnership with AJL as “a durable freedom infrastructure…where you have think tanks…locking arms with litigators to really press forward to be strategic, to be agile.”
“This is how we are going to have state solutions, national impact in both the short term and the long term,” Sharp said.
CMD has identified the following organizations that have received assistance from AJL so far:
- Alaska Policy Forum
- Americans for Fair Treatment
- Americans for Prosperity
- Americans for Tax Reform
- Beacon Center of Tennessee
- Buckeye Institute
- California Policy Center
- Center for American Liberty
- Center for Worker Freedom
- Empire Center for Public Policy
- Government Justice Center
- Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
- Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute (formerly the Center for Class Action Fairness)
- Heritage Foundation
- Independent Women’s Law Center
- Institute for Free Speech
- James Madison Center for Free Speech
- James Madison Institute
- John Locke Foundation
- Kansas Justice Institute
- Mackinac Center for Public Policy
- Maine Policy Institute (formerly the Maine Heritage Policy Center)
- Mississippi Justice Institute
- National Taxpayers Union
- New Civil Liberties Alliance
- Nevada Policy Research Institute
- Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs
- Pacific Legal Foundation
- Pelican Center for Justice
- Pelican Institute (formerly Pelican Institute for Public Policy)
- Philanthropy Roundtable
- Public Interest Legal Foundation
- Upper Midwest Law Center
- Washington Policy Center
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
- Wisconsin Transparency Project
What a head spinning alphabet soup of corruption! Thanks for running this down, but now what?
We rely on our legal system to provide a set of ground rules by which e organize society. These “conservative” radicals are seizing the rule of law to bend it to their will.
Left wing lawyers should infiltrate these organizations, study and learn their cookie-cutter strategies, and disseminate countermeasures widely. I take heart in the fact that they do frequently lose, for now.
I heard today that one of Trump’s election fraud lawsuits was thrown out with an order to pay legal fees to the election department on defence. That might be a court reform we need to entertain, forcing litigation mills, and those supplying their “ammo,” to pay restitution of costs they impose with their legislation through litigation scheme.
While Americans were asleep at the switch – watching the Trump Presidential Reality Show – an underground right-wing extremist movement, typified by groups such as the John Birch Society, the Minutemen, The Oath Keepers, the 3 Percenters, the Tea Party, the Proud Boys, the Neo-Nazis, and a host of armed militias – began to coalesce politically around Trump’s white nationalist grievance messaging and tribal dog whistles to disaffected whites. What these groups have in common is they can’t abide the notion that they will soon be just another minority group among the many who constitute this nation.
Despite a chest-thumping commitment to the notion of exceptionalism, American presidents have a long, sordid history of doing the bare minimum to promote freedom, justice and equality for their citizens of color. Successive waves of white immigrants have, like chameleons, benefited from the protective coloring that has enabled them to blend in and lay claim more easily and more quickly to “the American Dream”.
People of African descent, and other people of color, know that it’s a misnomer to describe America as “a melting pot”, when it’s more like a stew, a bouillabaisse. Only when organized demands have been made has the traditionally bigoted white power structure made concessions to those on the outside looking in. Too often violence and bloodshed have accompanied economic, political, social and cultural participation in a system which overlays all our efforts to survive and progress.
With the election of Barack Obama, the first African American President, and with Kamala Harris, an African American woman, now second in command, some white folks are acting out like there’s a five-alarm fire. They feel threatened, and mistakenly think that mobilizing financially, politically and militarily to turn back time will somehow stop the inevitable browning of America. Perhaps they fail to understand that there simply aren’t enough white people to go around. Their desperate, race-conscious efforts to cling to and deny the rising power of those who are the object of their irrational fears will fail. It would be better if they were to relax and get to know personally the fellow Americans who don’t look like them, but who have no less a claim than their ancestors to citizenship.
Instead, we have a bunch of fringe politicians and their cowardly funders implementing a long-term, shady plan – one based on gerrymandering, taking over state legislatures, securing appointments for ultraconservative judges, voter suppression and demonizing the diverse Democratic Party – in order to whip up envy, hatred, jealousies and violence toward “The Other” among those they and their loser leader Trump, managed to manipulate on the basis of race, xenophobia, fear of economic competition and gun control and disarmament.
On January 6, 2021, we saw white people of every conceivable social status – at the “invitation” of twice-impeached ,Trump, storm The Capitol after swallowing his “Big Lie”, hook-line-and-sinker, that he won the November 3, 2020 election by a landslide, despite losing by 8 million votes. Their quest, through violence, to overthrow the government, keep him in power and achieve some sort of misguided glory, is the end result of cynical people and organizations like those described in this article. The American oligarchy thinks it can set up a corporatist, apartheid state wherein a small minority of whites hold on to political, economic and military power through exclusion, exploitation and, when necessary, intimidation and violence.
The American government, and ordinary citizens, need a robust counterstrategy for putting extremists and their followers on the defensive. Their assaults on The Constitution and shared democratic values, ideals and the rule of law can be stopped only through the collective will of We The People.
We need cult deprogramming, civic education, surveillance and breaking up of violent groups, monitoring of radicalizing activities on social media and the dark web, and the use of every measure available to expose the financiers, hires, activities, operations and schemes of those who have proven incapable of handling present realities.
This is especially important for African Americans who – since they came to these shores in 1619 – have been made the scapegoat, the bogeyman and the objects of white terrorism. The Black Lives Matter Movement is a clear signal that the good ol’ days of “America First” and the more recent era of “Make America Great Again” are the bad ol’ days for us. We won’t be going back. We’re going Black!