Leonard Leo

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Leonard Leo
EducationCornell University (BA, JD)
EmployerCRC Advisors; The BH Group
Political partyRepublican

Leonard A. Leo is an American lawyer and conservative legal activist. He was the longtime vice president of the Federalist Society, where he is co-chairman of the board of directors.

Leo has led campaigns to support the Supreme Court 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.[1][2] He attended Cornell University,[2] graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1986, and working as an intern in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch.[1] 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.[3][1][2]


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.[1] 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.[2] Leo served at the Federalist Society in a variety of capacities for over 25 years. 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.[2]

Leo took leave of absences from the Federalist Society to organize efforts in support of the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.[2][4][5] Leo helped to push the Bush administration's nomination of Miguel Estrada to the judiciary.[2]

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."[2] 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."[2]

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.[6] 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.[7]

Leo was heavily involved in the campaign to prevent Merrick Garland from filling the Supreme Court seat previously occupied by Antonin Scalia;[8] the Judicial Crisis Network, linked to Leo, reported that it spent more than $7 million to prevent Garland's confirmation.[9] Leo was connected to two dozen conservative nonprofit entities that raised over $250 million between 2014 and 2017.[2][10] Donors who contributed to this network included Charles Koch and Rebekah Mercer.[11]

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."[12]

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."[13]

In 2019, The Washington Post wrote of Leo, "few people outside government have more influence over judicial appointments now than Leo."[2] Leo described himself in 2019 as "a leader of the conservative legal movement."[2] 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."[14]

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.[15] CRC Advisors is a conservative public affairs consulting firm modeled off of the liberal advisory group Arabella Advisors.[16][15] CRC Advisors has lobbied against climate change mitigation policies.[17] Leo remained in his role as co-chairman of the Federalist Society's board of directors.[16]

On October 12, 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 President Trump not to act on an election year Supreme Court vacancy, saying he had never asked President Trump about the possible scenario, but that it was Leo's opinion that President Trump should not act on a 2020 Supreme Court vacancy, should it arise.[18]

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."[19] In September 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Leo was involved in the selection process for a Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; this ultimately resulted in the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett.[20]

Religious work[edit]

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.[21]

He is a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.[22][23]

In 2012, Leo was on the boards of the Catholic Association and its affiliate Catholic Association Foundation.[2] These two organizations ran campaigns opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.[2] In 2016, Leo received $120,000 for his work for the Catholic Association.[2]

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.[24] Leo denied the claims of discrimination against the organization and no specific claims were made regarding Leo.[25] The EEOC complaint was dismissed.[25]

Other appointments and work[edit]

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 has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post.[26][27][28] He received the 2009 Bradley Prize.[29]

Leo has served 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.[2][30][31][32][33][34][35][36]

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 & Freedom Coalition.[37]

In filings with the Federal Election Commission, Leo listed the BH Group as his employer.[2] In 2018, the Judicial Crisis Network reported paying BH Group $1.2 million in fees.[38][2] 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.[2] Leo is also the President of the Freedom and Opportunity Fund.[2]

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.[39]

Leo is closely connected with the Honest Elections Project.[40] The Honest Elections Project, which has referred to voter suppression as a "myth", has filed briefs in favor of voting restrictions in Nevada, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.[41]

Personal life[edit]

Leo is Roman Catholic.[2] He has seven children with his wife, Sally.[2] Their daughter Margaret died in 2007 at the age of 14 from spina bifida.[1] Leo has spoken about the profound impact her life had on him.[1][42][43] Leo is a member of the Knights of Malta, a Catholic lay organization.[44]


  • Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (Simon & Schuster, 2004), co-editor, ISBN 978-0743274081


  1. ^ a b c d e f Toobin, Jeffrey (April 17, 2017). "The Conservative Pipeline to the Supreme Court". The New Yorker. New York. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "A conservative activist's behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation's courts". The Washington Post. 2019.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Kirkpatrick, David (July 22, 2005). "A Year of Work to Sell Roberts to Conservatives". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  5. ^ Cook, Robin (Fall 2006). "Confirmation of High Court Justices Akin to Political Campaign, Leo Says". UVA Lawyer. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  6. ^ Sloan, Karen (March 31, 2016). "George Mason Law School To Become Antonin Scalia School of Law". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  7. ^ Flegenheimer, Matt; Carl Hulse, Charlie Savage, and Adam Liptak, "Six Highlights From the Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing", The New York Times, March 20, 2017, Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  8. ^ Mayer, Jane. "For Mitch McConnell, Keeping His Senate Majority Matters More Than the Supreme Court". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  9. ^ "It's true: millions in dark money has been spent to tilt courts right". PolitiFact. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  10. ^ Boburg, Shawn; Jr, Robert O'Harrow. "Five takeaways from The Post's report on Leonard Leo". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  11. ^ "New 'dark money' group led by Trump judicial adviser tied to network promoting his court picks". OpenSecrets News. 2019-02-27. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  12. ^ "How One Man Brought Justices Roberts, Alito And Gorsuch To The Supreme Court". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  13. ^ Lovelace, Ryan (May 12, 2017). "Trump adviser Leonard Leo details plans to overhaul judiciary". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b "Leonard Leo to Keep Judicial Advocacy Focus in New Venture". news.bloomberglaw.com. Retrieved 2020-01-09.
  16. ^ a b Cassens Weiss, Debra. "Federalist Society official Leonard Leo embarks on a new conservative venture". ABA Journal. Retrieved 2020-01-09.
  17. ^ Hiar, Corbin. "Oil and Gas: Slip-up reveals Chevron ties to architect of climate attack". www.eenews.net. Retrieved 2020-06-18.
  18. ^ "Leonard Leo". Firing Line with Margaret Hoover. Retrieved 2020-10-22.
  19. ^ "GOP hopeful that Supreme Court battle will help shift election". MPR News. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  20. ^ Bender, Andrew Restuccia and Michael C. (2020-09-19). "Trump's Supreme Court Nomination Strategy Steered by White House Counsel, Others". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  21. ^ Prodromou, Elizabeth; Leo, Leonard (July 1, 2011). "Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad". Harvard International Review. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  22. ^ Leonard Leo. "A Judicial Renaissance? The Trump Administration & the Future of the Federal Judiciary". Acton Institute. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  23. ^ "Leonard Leo receives religious liberty's highest honor". Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  24. ^ Boorstein, Michelle (2010-02-17). "Agency that monitors religious freedom abroad accused of bias". ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  25. ^ a b "U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earns dismissal of EEOC's religious discrimination claims | Experience". www.jonesday.com. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  26. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 9, 2006). "Thirty Questions for Alito: Finality and Fallibility". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  27. ^ Leo, Leonard; Argue, Donald (April 12, 2010). "Nigeria's Descent Into Religious Strife". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  28. ^ Leo, Leonard (January 19, 2011). "Confronting China's Failure on Religious Freedom". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  29. ^ "Bradley Prize recipient Leonard Leo begins chairmanship of religious-freedom commission". Bradley Foundation. July 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  30. ^ "Board". Becket. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  31. ^ "Our Board". Students for Life. 2019-03-01. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  32. ^ "About". National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  33. ^ "Our Board". Students for Life. 2019-03-01. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  34. ^ "NLI Website". www.napalegalinstitute.org. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  35. ^ "Bush names well known Christians to International Religious Freedom Commission". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  36. ^ University, Catholic. "Leonard Leo". The Catholic University of America. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
  37. ^ O'Harrow Jr., Robert (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.
  38. ^ Slodysko | AP, Michael Biesecker and Brian. "Barrett ads tied to interest groups funded by unnamed donors". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  39. ^ "Barrett ads tied to interest groups funded by unnamed donors". AP NEWS. 2020-10-26. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  40. ^ "CNN - Breaking News, Latest News and Videos". lite.cnn.com. Retrieved 2020-10-31.
  41. ^ "Revealed: conservative group fighting to restrict voting tied to powerful dark money network". The Guardian. 2020-05-27. Retrieved 2020-10-31.
  42. ^ "Inside the mind of Leonard Leo, Trump's Supreme Court right-hand man". Washington Examiner. 2018-01-28. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ Michaelson, Jay (2018-07-09). "The Secrets of Leonard Leo, the Man Behind Trump's Supreme Court Pick". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2020-10-20.

External links[edit]