Leonard Leo

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Leonard Leo
Born1965 (age 53–54)
EducationCornell University (BA, JD)
EmployerFederalist Society
Salary$419,000 (2007)[1]
TitleExecutive Vice President
Political partyRepublican

Leonard A. Leo (born 1965) is an American lawyer and conservative activist who currently serves as executive vice president of the Federalist Society.[2]

Leo has led campaigns to support the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. 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."[3] Leo described himself in 2019 as "a leader of the conservative legal movement."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Leo was born on Long Island, New York in 1965,[4] and raised in suburban New Jersey.[1] He attended Cornell University,[1] graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1986, and working as an intern in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch.[4] 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.[5][4][1]

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.[4]


Leo served as 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.[6] He has been a U.S. Delegate to the UN Council and UN Commission on Human Rights as well as the Organization of Security and Cooperation and World Health Assembly. Leo has served as an observer at the World Intellectual Property Organization and as a member of the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

Leo organized efforts in support of the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.[1][7][8] He received the 2009 Bradley Prize.[9]

Leo has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post.[10][11][12] He is a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.[13][14]

He met Clarence Thomas while clerking in the Appeals Court and the two became close friend. Leo delayed his start at the Federalist Society to assist Thomas in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.[1]

In 2003, when George W. Bush intended to criticize the practice of affirmative action in a speech but praise racial diversity, Leo called White House officials to complain. Leo said that the praise for racial diversity would "disgust any conservative who thinks that this is a matter of principle."[1] Leo told the Washington Post, he "was conveying the widely shared belief among conservatives that discriminating on the basis of race is always wrong and inconsistent with the dignity and worth of every person."[1] Leo helped to push the Bush administration's nomination of Miguel Estrada to the judiciary.[1]

In 2012, Leo was on the boards of the Catholic Association and its affiliate Catholic Association Foundation.[1] These two organizations ran campaigns opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.[1]

In 2016, after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Leo helped arrange funding to rename George Mason University's Law School the Antonin Scalia Law School.[15] Leo was also identified by 2017 Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch as the person who first contacted Gorsuch about the possibility of President Donald Trump appointing Gorsuch to the seat vacated by Scalia's death.[16]

In 2019, The Washington Post wrote of Leo, "few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leo."[1] Between 2014 and 2017, Leo raised more than $250 million in "dark money" donations (donations where donors do not have to disclose their identity), which was in part used to support conservative policies and judges.[1] Leo has said of Mitch McConnell, who has broken records in seating Republican judicial nominees, that he was "the most consequential majority leader, certainly, in modern history."[17]

Personal life[edit]

Leo is Roman Catholic.[1] He has seven children with his wife, Sally.[1] Their daughter Margaret passed away in 2007 at the age of 14 from spina bifida.[18] Leo has spoken about the profound impact her life had on him.[18][19][20] Justice Thomas considered her a friend and keeps drawings from her under the glass on his desk.[19]

In 2019, The Washington Post reported that the Federalist Society had paid Leo an annual wage of more than $400,000 for a number of years.[1] In 2016, Leo received $120,000 for his work for the Catholic Association.[1]


  • Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2004), co-editor


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "A conservative activist's behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation's courts". The Washington Post. 2019.
  2. ^ "Leonard A. Leo". Federalist Society. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  3. ^ "How One Man Brought Justices Roberts, Alito And Gorsuch To The Supreme Court". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  4. ^ a b c d Toobin, Jeffrey (April 17, 2017). "The Consevtive Pipeline to the Supreme Court". The New Yorker. New York. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  5. ^ Lipton, Eric; Peters, Jeremy (March 18, 2017). "In Gorsuch, Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  6. ^ Prodromou, Elizabeth; Leo, Leonard (July 1, 2011). "Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad". Harvard International Review. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  7. ^ Kirkpatrick, David (July 22, 2005). "A Year of Work to Sell Roberts to Conservatives". New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  8. ^ Cook, Robin (Fall 2006). "Confirmation of High Court Justices Akin to Political Campaign, Leo Says". UVA Lawyer. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Bradley Prize recipient Leonard Leo begins chairmanship of religious-freedom commission". Bradley Foundation. July 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  10. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 9, 2006). "Thirty Questions for Alito: Finality and Fallibility". New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  11. ^ Leo, Leonard; Argue, Donald (April 12, 2010). "Nigeria's Descent Into Religious Strife". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  12. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 19, 2011). "Confronting China's Failure on Religious Freedom". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  13. ^ "A Judicial Renaissance? The Trump Administration & the Future of the Federal Judiciary- Leonard Leo". Acton Institute. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  14. ^ "Leonard Leo receives religious liberty's highest honor". Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  15. ^ Sloan, Karen (March 31, 2016). "George Mason Law School To Become Antonin Scalia School of Law". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  16. ^ Flegenheimer, Matt; Carl Hulse, Charlie Savage, and Adam Liptak, "Partisanship Runs High at Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing", New York Times, March 20, 2017 2:03 pm. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  17. ^ Homans, Charles (2019-01-22). "Mitch McConnell Got Everything He Wanted. But at What Cost?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  18. ^ a b Toobin, Jeffrey (2017-04-10). "The Conservative Pipeline to the Supreme Court". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  19. ^ a b "Inside the mind of Leonard Leo, Trump's Supreme Court right-hand man". Washington Examiner. 2018-01-28. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  20. ^ Savage, David G. "Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society is the man to see if you aspire to the Supreme Court". latimes.com. Retrieved 2019-06-10.

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