Leonard Leo

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Leonard Leo
Born1965 (age 57–58)
EducationCornell University (BA, JD)
Political partyRepublican
MovementAmerican Conservatism
Board member of

Leonard A. Leo (born 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 G. Calabresi, the co-chairman of the organization's board of directors.

Leo has been instrumental in building a network of influential conservative groups funded mostly by anonymous donors, including The 85 Fund and Concord Fund which serve as funding hubs for nonprofits in the network.[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[edit]

Leo was born on Long Island, New York, in 1965, and raised in suburban New Jersey to a family of practicing Catholics. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a vice president of Brooks Brothers.[2][3] Leo attended Cornell University,[3] graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1986, and working as an intern in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch.[2] 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.[2][3][4]


Judicial nomination work[edit]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[3]

Leo took leaves of absence from the Federalist Society to organize efforts in support of the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.[3][5][6] Leo helped to push the Bush administration's nomination of Miguel Estrada to the judiciary.[3]

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; he said that the praise for racial diversity would "disgust any conservative who thinks that this is a matter of principle."[3] 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."[3]

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, which filed a brief to the court in a landmark voting rights case the same year. Leo directed Conway to not mention Ginni Thomas in paperwork. Leo told The Washington Post "As an advisor to JEP I have long been supportive of its opinion research relating to limited government, and The Polling Company, along with Ginni Thomas's help, has been an invaluable resource for gauging public attitudes." He also said "Knowing how disrespectful, malicious and gossipy people can be, I have always tried to protect the privacy of Justice Thomas and Ginni."[7]

In 2016, after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Leo raised funds to rename George Mason University's Law School the Antonin Scalia Law School.[8] Leo worked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block President Barack Obama's replacement appointee, Merrick Garland and first contacted Gorsuch about the possibility of President Donald Trump appointing Gorsuch to the seat vacated by Scalia's death.[9]

Leo was heavily involved in the campaign to prevent Merrick Garland from filling the Supreme Court seat previously occupied by Antonin Scalia;[10] the Judicial Crisis Network, linked to Leo, reported that it spent more than $7 million to prevent Garland's confirmation.[11] Leo was connected to two dozen conservative nonprofit entities that raised over $250 million between 2014 and 2017.[3][12] Donors who contributed to this network included Charles Koch and Rebekah Mercer.[13]

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."[14]

In 2017, Kris Mauren of the Acton Institute said that Leo has played "a significant leadership role in the selection and successful confirmation of a third of the currently sitting justices on the Supreme Court."[15]

In 2019, The Washington Post wrote of Leo, "few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leo."[3] Leo described himself in 2019 as "a leader of the conservative legal movement."[3] 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."[16]

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.[17] CRC Advisors is a conservative public affairs consulting firm modeled off of the liberal advisory group Arabella Advisors.[18][17] CRC Advisors has lobbied against climate change mitigation policies.[19] Leo remained in his role as co-chairman of the Federalist Society's board of directors.[18]

In October 2018, Leo appeared on an episode of Firing Line. When asked about a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court in a future election year, he replied by saying: "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.[20]

After the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, Leo said the impending Supreme Court nomination fight "can be an important galvanizing force for President Trump."[21] In September 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Leo was involved in the selection process for a Supreme Court nominee to replace Ginsburg; this ultimately resulted in the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett.[22]

Religious work[edit]

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.[23]

He is a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.[24][25]

In 2012, Leo was on the boards of the Catholic Association and its affiliate Catholic Association Foundation.[3] These two organizations ran campaigns opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.[3] In 2016, Leo received $120,000 for his work for the Catholic Association.[3]

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.[26] Leo denied the claims of discrimination against the organization, and no specific claims were made regarding Leo.[27] The EEOC complaint was dismissed.[27]

Other appointments and work[edit]

He has been a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Council and 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 U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

Leo has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post.[28][29][30] He received the 2009 Bradley Prize.[31]

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.[3][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

Leo is a member of the Council for National Policy, whose other members include, among others, 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.[39]

In filings with the Federal Election Commission, Leo listed the BH Group as his employer.[3] In 2018, the Judicial Crisis Network reported paying BH Group $1.2 million in fees.[40][3] 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.[3] Leo is also the president of the Freedom and Opportunity Fund.[3]

Rule of Law Trust[edit]

Leo is the sole trustee of, and only individual associated with, the Rule of Law Trust. Its stated mission is "to advance conservative principles and causes". It reported revenue of more than $80 million in 2018.[41] The Rule of Law Trust has received $153 million from the Marble Freedom Trust in order to push for the appointment of more conservative judges in the courts.[42]

Marble Freedom Trust[edit]

He is the trustee and chairman of the Marble Freedom Trust, founded in 2020. The trust was given $1.6 billion in late 2020 by Illinois businessman Barre Seid.[43][44] The trust is a 501(c)4 organization which supports conservative political causes. It is allowed to spend up to 50% of its budget on political advocacy, but that spending is taxed by the IRS. The trust, on other spending, is exempt from paying taxes. Leo has primary authority to decide how the trust's money is spent.[45] The Marble Freedom Trust has distributed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, including $153 million to the Rule of Law Trust to push the appointment of conservative judges.[46]

Conservative network building[edit]

An October 2022 article by Kenneth P. Vogel in The New York Times detailed how Leo, previously best known for his role in conservative judicial appointments, had developed a larger coalition on the right. 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."[43] Leo's network is made up of various loosely affiliated non-profit and for-profit entities which spent nearly $504 million between mid-2015 and 2021. The network has critiqued "woke capitalism" and has criticized corporations for pushing environmental, social, and corporate governance (E.S.G.) causes. 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.[43][1]

Personal life[edit]

Leo is Roman Catholic.[3] He has seven children with his wife, Sally.[3] Their daughter Margaret died in 2007 at the age of 14 from spina bifida.[2] Leo has spoken about the profound impact her life had on him.[2][47][48] Leo is a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order.[49][50]

Leo has a summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where he has been the target of periodic protests due to his advocacy for anti-abortion Supreme Court justices.[51] In the weeks following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, protests were held there on an almost daily basis.[52]


  • 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.


  1. ^ a b Vogel, Kenneth P. (October 12, 2022). "Leonard Leo's Network Is Increasingly Powerful. But It Is Not Easy to Define". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Toobin, Jeffrey (April 17, 2017). "The Conservative Pipeline to the Supreme Court". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v O'Harrow, Robert Jr.; Boburg, Shawn (May 21, 2019). "A conservative activist's behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation's courts". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ Lipton, Eric; Peters, Jeremy (March 18, 2017). "In Gorsuch, Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary". The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  5. ^ Kirkpatrick, David (July 22, 2005). "A Year of Work to Sell Roberts to Conservatives". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  6. ^ Cook, Robin (Fall 2006). "Confirmation of High Court Justices Akin to Political Campaign, Leo Says". UVA Lawyer. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  7. ^ Brown, Emma; Boburg, Shawn; O'Connell, Jonathan (May 4, 2023). "Judicial activist directed fees to Clarence Thomas's wife, urged 'no mention of Ginni'". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 May 2023.
  8. ^ Sloan, Karen (March 31, 2016). "George Mason Law School To Become Antonin Scalia School of Law". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  9. ^ Flegenheimer, Matt; Hulse, Carl; Savage, Charlie; Liptak, Adam (March 20, 2017). "Six Highlights From the Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  10. ^ Mayer, Jane (19 September 2020). "For Mitch McConnell, Keeping His Senate Majority Matters More Than the Supreme Court". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  11. ^ "It's true: millions in dark money has been spent to tilt courts right". PolitiFact. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  12. ^ Boburg, Shawn; O'Harrow, Robert Jr. (May 21, 2019). "Five takeaways from The Post's report on Leonard Leo". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  13. ^ Massoglia, Anna; Perez, Andrew (February 27, 2019). "New 'dark money' group led by Trump judicial adviser tied to network promoting his court picks". OpenSecrets.
  14. ^ "How One Man Brought Justices Roberts, Alito And Gorsuch To The Supreme Court". NPR. April 12, 2017. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  15. ^ Lovelace, Ryan (May 12, 2017). "Trump adviser Leonard Leo details plans to overhaul judiciary". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  16. ^ Homans, Charles (January 22, 2019). "Mitch McConnell Got Everything He Wanted. But at What Cost?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Leonard Leo to Keep Judicial Advocacy Focus in New Venture". Bloomberg Law. Retrieved 2020-01-09.
  18. ^ a b Cassens Weiss, Debra (January 8, 2020). "Federalist Society official Leonard Leo embarks on a new conservative venture". ABA Journal. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  19. ^ Hiar, Corbin (June 18, 2020). "Oil and Gas: Slip-up reveals Chevron ties to architect of climate attack". www.eenews.net. Retrieved 2020-06-18.
  20. ^ "Leonard Leo". Firing Line with Margaret Hoover. Retrieved 2020-10-22.
  21. ^ "GOP hopeful that Supreme Court battle will help shift election". MPR News. January 7, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  22. ^ Restuccia, Andrew; Bender, Michael C. (September 19, 2020). "Trump's Supreme Court Nomination Strategy Steered by White House Counsel, Others". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  23. ^ Prodromou, Elizabeth; Leo, Leonard (July 1, 2011). "Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad". Harvard International Review. New Haven, Connecticut: Harvard University. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  24. ^ Leo, Leonard (May 11, 2017). "A Judicial Renaissance? The Trump Administration & the Future of the Federal Judiciary". Acton Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
  25. ^ "Leonard Leo receives religious liberty's highest honor". Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. May 5, 2017. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
  26. ^ Boorstein, Michelle (February 17, 2010). "Agency that monitors religious freedom abroad accused of bias". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  27. ^ a b "U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earns dismissal of EEOC's religious discrimination claims | Experience". www.jonesday.com. December 2010. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  28. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 9, 2006). "Thirty Questions for Alito: Finality and Fallibility". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  29. ^ Leo, Leonard; Argue, Donald (April 12, 2010). "Nigeria's Descent Into Religious Strife". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  30. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 19, 2011). "Confronting China's Failure on Religious Freedom". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  31. ^ "Bradley Prize recipient Leonard Leo begins chairmanship of religious-freedom commission". Bradley Foundation. July 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  32. ^ "Board". Becket. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  33. ^ "Our Board". Students for Life. March 1, 2019. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  34. ^ "About". National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  35. ^ "Our Board". Students for Life. March 1, 2019. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  36. ^ "NLI Website". www.napalegalinstitute.org. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  37. ^ "Bush names well known Christians to International Religious Freedom Commission". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  38. ^ "Leonard Leo". The Catholic University of America. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  39. ^ O'Harrow, Robert Jr. (October 14, 2020). "Videos show closed-door sessions of leading conservative activists: 'Be not afraid of the accusations that you're a voter suppressor'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  40. ^ Biesecker, Michael; Slodysko, Brian. "Barrett ads tied to interest groups funded by unnamed donors". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  41. ^ "Barrett ads tied to interest groups funded by unnamed donors". Associated Press. October 26, 2020. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  42. ^ McGreal, Chris (September 4, 2022). "Leonard Leo: the secretive rightwinger using billions to reshape America". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 10, 2022. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  43. ^ a b c Vogel, Kenneth P. (October 12, 2022). "Leonard Leo Pushed the Courts Right. Now He's Aiming at American Society". The New York Times.
  44. ^ Peretz, Andrew; Kroll, Andy; Elliott, Justin (August 22, 2022). "How a Secretive Billionaire Handed His Fortune to the Architect of the Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts". ProPublica. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  45. ^ Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, "An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives: A low-profile Republican financier donated his company to a new group run by the influential operative Leonard A. Leo" The New York Times August 2, 2022
  46. ^ "Leonard Leo: the secretive rightwinger using billions to reshape America". the Guardian. September 4, 2022.
  47. ^ Quinn, Melissa (January 28, 2018). "Inside the mind of Leonard Leo, Trump's Supreme Court right-hand man". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  48. ^ Savage, David G. (July 6, 2018). "Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society is the man to see if you aspire to the Supreme Court". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  49. ^ Michaelson, Jay (July 9, 2018). "The Secrets of Leonard Leo, the Man Behind Trump's Supreme Court Pick". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  50. ^ "Bilateral relations". Order of Malta. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  51. ^ "Man arrested during abortion-rights protest outside conservative judicial activist's MDI home". August 2022.
  52. ^ Broom, Dick (September 8, 2022). "What do the Leonard Leo protesters want?". Mount Desert Islander. Archived from the original on September 14, 2022. Retrieved 14 September 2022.

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