Politics

Judiciary Democrats call for stronger transparency on amicus brief funding

Senior Democrats with oversight responsibility over federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are calling for stronger transparency requirements for special interest groups that fund amicus briefs seeking to influence decisions.

In a Dec. 14 letter to the Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for federal courts, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, said a POLITICO investigation published earlier this month illustrates the need for such reforms. Both Democrats are senior members of their respective chamber’s Judiciary committees.

The investigation demonstrated how a majority of conservative amicus briefs in seven recent cases before the Supreme Court are connected to judicial activist Leonard Leo and his network. Leo is the Federalist Society vice chairman who recommended nominating three conservative justices during the Trump administration and coordinated multimillion-dollar campaigns through his network of nonprofit groups to promote most of the nominations of the conservative majority.

POLITICO’s report further exposes “the need for greater transparency regarding amicus brief funding. As noted in the article, many amici that have filed briefs in recent, high-profile Supreme Court cases share funding connections to common, ideological donors,” the letter said.

The review of tax filings, financial statements and other public documents is the first comprehensive review of amicus briefs that have streamed into the court since Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, solidifying the court’s conservative majority.

A Judicial Conference advisory committee is considering updating its rules to require greater disclosure of who funds amicus briefs. “We urge it to take into account the impact that these and other examples have on public confidence in the judiciary,” Whitehouse and Johnson said.

For years, the two have pushed for reforms to what Whitehouse calls “amicus flotillas,” or large volumes of briefs funded by neutral-sounding organizations which, in reality, are representing a broader political movement or interest group.

Specifically, they recommend requiring parties and amici curiae to disclose any recent gifts, travel or reimbursements they’ve given to a justice and disclosure of any lobbying or money spent promoting a justice’s confirmation to the court.

Senior Democrats with oversight responsibility over federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are calling for stronger transparency requirements for special interest groups that fund amicus briefs seeking to influence decisions.
In a Dec. 14 letter to the Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for federal courts, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, said a POLITICO investigation published earlier this month illustrates the need for such reforms. Both Democrats are senior members of their respective chamber’s Judiciary committees.
The investigation demonstrated how a majority of conservative amicus briefs in seven recent cases before the Supreme Court are connected to judicial activist Leonard Leo and his network. Leo is the Federalist Society vice chairman who recommended nominating three conservative justices during the Trump administration and coordinated multimillion-dollar campaigns through his network of nonprofit groups to promote most of the nominations of the conservative majority.
POLITICO’s report further exposes “the need for greater transparency regarding amicus brief funding. As noted in the article, many amici that have filed briefs in recent, high-profile Supreme Court cases share funding connections to common, ideological donors,” the letter said.
The review of tax filings, financial statements and other public documents is the first comprehensive review of amicus briefs that have streamed into the court since Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, solidifying the court’s conservative majority.
A Judicial Conference advisory committee is considering updating its rules to require greater disclosure of who funds amicus briefs. “We urge it to take into account the impact that these and other examples have on public confidence in the judiciary,” Whitehouse and Johnson said.
For years, the two have pushed for reforms to what Whitehouse calls “amicus flotillas,” or large volumes of briefs funded by neutral-sounding organizations which, in reality, are representing a broader political movement or interest group.
Specifically, they recommend requiring parties and amici curiae to disclose any recent gifts, travel or reimbursements they’ve given to a justice and disclosure of any lobbying or money spent promoting a justice’s confirmation to the court.  

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