Supreme Court Puppetmaster Explains How Billionaires Can Push America Right

Conservative activist and Supreme Court puppetmaster Leonard Leo recently outlined his pitch for billionaires on how they can help move the United States government and society to the right.

“It’s really important that we flood the zone with cases that challenge misuse of the Constitution by the administrative state and by Congress,” Leo said in a new podcast interview, calling on the ultra-wealthy to support these litigation efforts.

“We have a great Overton window in the next couple of decades to really try to create a free society,” Leo said of the Supreme Court. “And I think we should take full advantage of it.”

The co-chair of the Federalist Society, the conservative lawyers network, Leo is best known as the man who helped build the Supreme Court’s conservative 6-3 supermajority, in his role as President Donald Trump’s judicial adviser. Leo’s dark money network, which received a historic $1.6 billion infusion in 2021, additionally helps bring cases before the high court, influence which cases the justices consider, and shape the court’s decisions. As Rolling Stone reported last month, Leo has been working to expand his network in recent months.

Leo has been at the center of the ethics questions swirling around the Supreme Court in the past year. ProPublica reported that Leo arranged Justice Samuel Alito’s seat on a private jet — paid for by a billionaire hedge-fund chief — as part of an undisclosed luxury fishing trip in Alaska in 2008. He also reportedly steered secret consulting payments to Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife.

Long averse to media attention, Leo recently taped a podcast interview with Joe Lonsdale, the co-founder of surveillance company Palantir and the University of Austin, a conservative alternative college he started with journalist Bari Weiss. The discussion was first highlighted by the watchdog group Accountable.US.

In the interview, Leo spoke about his $1.6 billion dark money fund, called the Marble Freedom Trust, explaining: “We’re trying to really institute a lot of legal and social change through philanthropy.” He also offered his thoughts on how billionaires can help conservatives limit regulations, take over corporate C-suites, reshape America’s education system, and influence our culture. Leo, a devout Catholic, additionally discussed his interest in reforming religious institutions.

Leo outlined how conservatives can chip away at the administrative state by flooding the courts with legal challenges. Touting a Supreme Court ruling that limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate some carbon emissions, he said that “there needs to be constraints on agencies’ interpretations of their own power,” and that “courts have a role to play in interpreting agency power and constraining them when necessary.” He added, “There are many more of those cases that are going to be brought over the next three to five years.”

In the business realm, he argued, “We need to be building pipelines of talent — pipelines of people who understand that the Constitution matters, and that the private sector and civil society matter. And that means building talent pipelines of people who can be in the C-suite and in boardrooms, because corporate America plays an enormously important role in potentially constraining government.”

He continued: “Corporate America, [the] finance world, banks — they have an enormous amount of influence over our culture and our social life. And we need to be finding ways of getting folks in the C-suites and in the boardrooms who are just tired of our woke culture.”

Leo has financed the right-wing campaign against so-called “woke capitalism,” targeting the use of ESG — environmental, social, and governance — criteria in investment decisions.

Twice in the interview, Leo talked about the need for conservatives to “build talent pipelines in the media and entertainment industry,” adding: “There are a lot of people in the entertainment world who really understand limited government and free society. And they’re not happy with the entertainment world, and they’re looking for opportunities to band together, and to be a part of new enterprises.”

Leo’s network has funded the conservative National Review Institute as well as the RealClearFoundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the political news aggregator RealClearPolitics.

Another key element in Leo’s pitch to prospective donors centered around education — both K-12 and higher education. “We need to create talent pipelines for K-12 education and for higher ed, something like you’re doing with the University of Austin,” he told Lonsdale, “so that we remind people that the purpose of higher ed, for example, is to basically build a citizenry that’s committed to the Constitution as it was originally written.”

Leo explained this means recruiting teachers and working to influence education board races, “so that we can begin to have some sanity and local education.”

He added, “The idea behind education, as [Thomas] Jefferson put it, was to create good engaged citizens. So if we teach them civics, in a way that’s understandable, and comprehensible, and appealing, the idea that limited government advances human dignity, and I really believe that, if we can, if we can have educational institutions that instill that, we’ll create a better electorate. And if we create a better electorate, I think ultimately, we’ll have a government, including an administrative state, that’s much more reflective of a free and just society.”

One group in Leo’s network, Free to Learn, has been involved in local school board elections. His network recently created a new group called the American Parents Coalition.

Lastly, Leo talked about the need to reform the clergy. “This is one that I just started thinking about, there’s the whole issue of clergy, and this is a tough one to crack,” he said, adding: “This may not be for everybody, but my own perspective is: God made us to know him, to love him, and to serve him. And I think our religious leaders need to center more on that, and less on knowing, loving, and serving ourselves, and whatever personal desires or affections we may have.”

Leo leads a separate nonprofit entity, called the Sacred Spaces Foundation, which he used to purchase a Catholic church near his summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, last year.

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