Conservative Dark Money Group Plans to Spend More Than $2 Million to Boost Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

The Judicial Crisis Network is running ads before the president even has a nominee.

Chris Juhn/Zuma

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The Judicial Crisis Network, the conservative dark money group that has spent millions to support or oppose judicial nominees, announced today that it will spend at least $2.2 million in ad buys to boost whoever Donald Trump selects to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. JCN played a pivotal role in boosting Trump’s two previous Supreme Court picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, spending tens of millions in support of their confirmations.

Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both said that they will try to confirm a new justice to fill the vacant seat as quickly as possible, despite pleas from Democrats to wait until after the election. The situation has set up a fierce political battle, though one that Congressional Democrats don’t exactly have much leverage over. JCN’s first ad paints Democrats as “extremists” who are “shamefully trying to change the facts” about confirming a Supreme Court justice too quickly in an election year. “There is no reason Judge Amy Coney Barrett or Judge Barbara Lagoa could not be confirmed before the election,” JCN president Carrie Severino said in a statement, referencing two of the women who are rumored to be atop of Trump’s justice shortlist. 

Trump said on Monday that he plans to announce his pick as soon as Friday or Saturday, and as soon as that person is announced—whether it be Barrett, Lagoa, or someone else—they’ll have the support of JCN’s vast network of unknown conservative megadonors. According to OpenSecrets, JCN received $22 million in anonymous donations—including one large $17 million donation from a single anonymous donor—in 2018, the year that Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate. The group spent tens of millions to support Kavanaugh’s confirmation, including defending him from the credible allegation of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford.

Little is known about the anonymous donors who are funding JCN, but the group has ties to Leonard Leo, a Catholic fundamentalist and longtime executive at the Federalist Society who is one of Trump’s top outside judicial advisers. According to a 2018 Daily Beast investigation, Leo is at the center of the secretive JCN, which has been successful in boosting two other conservative judges to the Supreme Court—Samuel Alito and John Roberts—in addition to Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. 

JCN also has ties to a number of other conservative groups with a vested interest in the Senate quickly confirming a Trump pick, including the National Rifle Association. JCN contributed $250,000 to the NRA in 2018, on top of $1 million it gave the group in 2016 and 2017, according to OpenSecrets. Another nonprofit group with ties to Leo, the public policy think tank America Engaged, gave $950,000 to the NRA in 2017, and the NRA ran ads in support of both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. 

JCN’s $2.2. million ad blitz says it will soon air its first ad in several states with key Senate races, including Iowa, North Carolina, Maine, and Colorado.

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