Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a conservative law firm based in Chicago. Founded in 1997, the group has been engaged in many "culture war" issues, promoting its anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage beliefs through litigation. The society filed cases as part of Donald Trump's failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump was defeated.
History and litigation
The Thomas More Society is a conservative Catholic law firm associated with the Christian right. Founded by Tom Brejcha in 1997, the group won two U.S. Supreme Court victories against the National Organization for Women in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women in 2003 and 2006. Brejcha is the president and chief counsel of the group. The Thomas More Society has been engaged in many "culture war" issues, promoting its anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage beliefs through litigation. It is part of a broader set of Christian conservative legal organizations (CCLOs), which include Alliance Defending Freedom, American Center for Law and Justice, First Liberty Institute, Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, National Legal Foundation, Christian Legal Society, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Abortion, contraception, and embryo cases
In partnership with the CatholicVote Legal Defense Fund, the Thomas More Society has challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's mandate requiring requiring companies' health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and sterilization.
In 2015, the Thomas More Society filed amicus briefs in the civil case of actress Sofia Vergara, who was sued by her ex-boyfriend in an frozen embryo case; the society, along with other anti-abortion groups, sought to have the courts treat the embryo as children (under a "best interests of the child" standard) rather than as marital property). The case tied into a broader "personhood" debate that had emerged in the politics of abortion.
In 2018, the Executive Council of Iowa, which included Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, hired the Thomas More Society to defend Iowa in a legal challenge against Iowa's recently passed abortion law, the strictest in the nation. The group stepped in to represent the state after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, declined to defend the law's constitutionality. The group represented the state without a fee. A state court blocked the Iowa law from going into effect.
The group represented a former Missouri State University student who claimed that he was expelled from the university's masters degree in counseling program for refusing to counsel same-sex couples. The university settled in 2017 with the ex-student for $25,000.
In 2020, the society filed an amicus brief in the Nebraska Supreme Court in the case of Dycus v. Dycus, urging the court to strike down Nebraska's no-fault divorce law. The court upheld the law.
Challenges to COVID-19 public health measures
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thomas More Society represented churches in suing state officials over public-health restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. The group contended that applying capacity limits, social distancing rules, and the face covering requirements to churches violated religious liberties. In a California case challenging such restrictions, the Thomas More Society was counsel for Grace Community Church, a Los Angeles County megachurch. The group filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Wisconsin anti-abortion group which claimed that the COVID-19 restriction on public gatherings unlawfully blocked the group from gathering.
Failed efforts to overturn 2020 presidential election outcome
In 2020, after Trump was defeated by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, the Thomas More Society established the Amistad Project as part of an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed that the election was marred by voter fraud. The project was led by former Kansas Attorney General (and later Liberty University professor) Phillip Kline, although his law license was suspended. The effort was tied to Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign who was also special counsel to the Thomas More Society. The Amistad Projects filed lawsuits on behalf of supposed "grassroots" groups (with titles such as the "Pennsylvania Voters Alliance" and "Wisconsin Voters Alliance") in the swing states won by Biden (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). All the suits were rejected or dismissed by the courts. Ellis's tie to the society and the project suggested "a coordinated effort to flood the nation's courts with repetitive litigation" allowing Trump to continue to claim that the election results remain contested.
On December 14, 2020, ahead of the electoral college vote, Amistad Project attorney Ian Northon accompanied a group of self-described "Republican electors" in Lansing who were attempted to cast Michigan electoral votes for Trump, despite Biden winning Michigan and being previously certified as the winner. Northon claimed the "electors" were "fulfilling their constitutional duty." The fake "votes" cast by the pro-Trump "alternate electors" have no legal standing.
On December 22, 2020, after the electors had cast their votes, the Amistad Project sued in D.C. federal court on behalf of a variety of plaintiffs: ten voters, five organizations, and eight state legislators. The two Michigan legislators listed as plaintiffs later requested to be dropped from the suit, feeling that the suit that was filed differed too strongly from what they had agreed to. The project sued, among others, Vice President Mike Pence, governors, election officials, and legislative officials in the battleground states; the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and the electoral college itself. The group asked the court to (as the district court later described in denying the request) "declare unconstitutional several decades-old federal statutes governing the appointment of electors and the counting of electoral votes for President of the United States; to invalidate multiple state statutes regulating the certification of Presidential votes; to ignore certain Supreme Court decisions; and, the coup de grace, to enjoin the U.S. Congress from counting the electoral votes on January 6, 2021, and declaring Joseph R. Biden the next President." The suit was derided by legal community for the substance of its arguments, the broadness of its goals, and for naming the Electoral College as a defendant, with notes that the Electoral College is not something that exists, but a process that happens.
On January 4, 2021, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg denied the society's motion for a preliminary injunction, noting that plaintiffs lacked standing, the case was filed in the wrong court, and that plaintiffs made no effort to serve the other side. Boasberg wrote that in addition to those procedural problems, "the suit rests on a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution. It would be risible were its target not so grave: the undermining of a democratic election for President of the United States."
- Cauterucci, Christina (January 28, 2016). "Frozen embryos and the anti-abortion activists who love them". Slate magazine. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- "Anti-Abortion Groups Join Battles Over Frozen Embryos". The New York Times. January 20, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
Thomas Olp, of the Thomas More Society, a conservative public-interest law firm that filed the brief in concert with Missouri Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups, said...
- Rex W. Huppke (2013). "Thomas More Society celebrates 15 years on the front line of the culture wars". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on August 9, 2020. Retrieved February 4, 2016.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Jon Swaine, Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger, Conservative nonprofit group challenging election results around the country has tie to Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis, Washington Post (December 7, 2020).
- Rutenberg, Jim; Becker, Jo; Lipton, Eric; Haberman, Maggie; Martin, Jonathan; Rosenberg, Matthew; Schmidt, Michael S. (January 31, 2021). "77 Days: Trump's Campaign to Subvert the Election". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
- Amanda Hollis-Brusky & Joshua C. Wilson, Separate But Faithful: The Christian Right's Radical Struggle to Transform Law & Legal Culture (Oxford University Press, 2020), p. 128: "the Chicago-based Thomas More Society (TMS), a different conservative Catholic PILO"
- Eugene Volokh, Ban on profane, rude, or indecent speech that disturbs houses of worship violates the First Amendment, The Volokh Conspiracy, Washington Post (March 9, 2015): "the Thomas More Society would generally be seen as a conservative Catholic public interest law firm"
- Jack Bouboushian, Court Nixes Challenge to Contraceptive Mandate, Courthouse News Service (September 18, 2013).
- Henry Farrell, These are the conservative legal groups behind the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, Washington Post (December 5, 2017).
- Jennifer S. Mann, Missouri lawmaker, wife ask court for contraception insurance exclusion, Religion News Service (September 9, 2014).
- "Anti-Abortion Groups Join Battles Over Frozen Embryos". The New York Times. January 20, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- Marcotte, Amanda (January 20, 2016). "The new anti-choice mission: Target frozen embryos to make it harder for couples like Sofia Vergara and Nick Loeb to break up". Salon. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- Coker, Matt. "Irvine Anti-Abortion Activist Unveils New Abortion Sting Video on Eve of Court Date". OC Weekly. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- Coker, Matt. "Planned Parenthood Hit Videographers Indicted in Texas". OC Weekly. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- Pearl, Mike (January 26, 2016). "What We Know About the Charges Against the Pro-Life Hidden Camera Activists". VICE. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- Council OKs outside law firm to defend Iowa in abortion suit, Associated Press (May 21, 2018).
- Rox Laird, Anti-Abortion Group Can't Join Iowa Legal Brawl, Courthouse News Service (September 6, 2018).
- David Pitt, Judge agrees to halt fetal heartbeat abortion law in Iowa, Associated Press (June 1, 2018).
- Illinois gay marriage foes to maintain legal strategy, Journal Star (June 26, 2013).
- Juliet Eilperin, State officials balk at defending laws they deem unconstitutional, Washington Post (July 18, 2013).
- Joe Harris, Anti-Gay Counselor Gets $25,000 From Missouri State, Courthouse News Service (January 16, 2017).
- Grant Schulte, No-fault divorce law faces legal challenge in Nebraska, Associated Press (September 3, 2020).
- Dycus v. Dycus, 307 Neb. 426, 949 N.W.2d 357 (2020).
- Baumert, Mark (October 9, 2020). "State Supreme Court rejects Hastings divorce appeal". KOLN.
- David Crary, More US churches sue to challenge COVID-19 restrictions, Associated Press (August 13, 2020).
- Marina Villeneuve, Court allows NY virus restrictions ahead of Jewish holidays, Associated Press (October 9, 2020).
- Nathan Solis, Megachurch Sues LA County, California Over Indoor Worship Ban, Courthouse News Service (August 13, 2020).
- Joe Kelly, Wisconsin Appeals Court Tosses Limit on Public Gatherings, Courthouse News Service (November 6, 2020).
- Short of Money to Run Elections, Local Authorities Turn to Private Funds, New York Times (September 25, 2020).
- Trump to nominate anti-abortion lawyer to federal judgeship, Associated Press (August 15, 2019).
- Senate confirms controversial federal judge for Missouri, Associated Press (December 4, 2019).
- Carpenter, Tim (December 1, 2020). "Despite suspension of law license, former Kansas AG Phill Kline helping out in anti-Biden election lawsuits". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
- Egan, Paul; Boucher, Dave (December 14, 2020). "Michigan GOP legislative leaders seek to ease tensions ahead of Electoral College vote". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
- Paul McLeod (December 14, 2020). "Pro-Trump Republicans Are Holding Fake Electoral College Votes While The Real Electoral College Meets To Formalize Biden's Win". Buzzfeed News.
- Nick Corasaniti & Jim Rutenberg (December 15, 2020). "No, there aren't 'alternate electors' who can vote for President Trump". New York Times..
- Mauger, Craig (December 22, 2020). "2 Michigan lawmakers listed in suit seeking legislative approval of election results". The Detroit News. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
- "Complaint" (PDF). Election Law Blog. Case 1:20-cv-03791.
- Wisconsin Voters Alliance v. Pence, Civil Action No. 20-3791 (JEB) (D.D.C. Jan. 4, 2021).
- Lambe, Jerry (December 23, 2020). "Lawyers Have a Field Day After Republicans File 'the Single Dumbest Election Lawsuit of the Entire Cycle'". Law&Crime. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
- Marley, Patrick (January 4, 2021). "Federal judge scoffs at election lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Republicans and others". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved January 4, 2021.