During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that he would only nominate a justice to the Supreme Court whose named appeared on two lists developed by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
While the Federalist Society is a conservative group that focuses closely on legal issues, Heritage takes a much wider scope, working on everything from domestic policy to foreign affairs.
Heritage, led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, has played a major role in the Trump administration, especially on staffing and policy ideas. Conservative activist Marjorie Dannenfelser called Heritage “the fulcrum” of Trump’s administration, and one source told Politico’s Katie Glueck that Heritage launched a “shadow transition team.”
“Perhaps Heritage’s most significant involvement during the campaign was its experts’ shaping of Trump’s list of Supreme Court choices, ultimately resulting in a selection of conservative thinkers who oppose abortion rights,” Glueck adds.
Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, from the Heritage-developed lists, which Trump assured conservatives would only include “pro-life” judges in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia.
Heritage’s role in Gorsuch’s selection should raise doubts that Trump was looking for a mainstream nominee.
In fact, Heritage is so far to the right that many Republicans have publicly complained about its extremism.
Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast dubbed Heritage Action, the think tank’s political arm, “The Group too Radical for Republicans,” and The Atlantic’s Molly Ball described in detail “Heritage’s transformation from august policy shop to political hit squad.”
DeMint, who left the Senate in 2013 to lead Heritage, was one of Congress’s most radical members and “the primary conduit through which the Religious Right’s agenda makes its way in the halls of Congress.”
He said that gay people and unmarried women who have premarital sex shouldn’t be allowed to teach in public schools and led the unsuccessful drive to defeat a hate crimes bill because it protected people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, falsely claiming that it would criminalize free speech and land pastors in jail.
Even before DeMint took the reins, Heritage had taken anti-LGBT stances, criticizing the Supreme Court ruling that knocked down bans on gay sex, and Heritage staffer Ryan Anderson has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws.
DeMint has also denounced immigration reform, universal health care and abortion rights, which he said should be banned even in cases of rape or incest.
Heritage also tasked its analyst Jason Richwine with studying the supposed negative effects of immigration reform. Previously, Richwine wrote articles for White Nationalist Richard Spencer’s racist Alt-Right website linking Latinos to crime and authored a doctoral dissertation claiming that Latinos have a genetically inferior IQ to white people and that the children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants will persist in having low IQs, dragging down American society unless the U.S. adopted a more discriminating immigration policy.
Naturally, Richwine’s heavily criticized report for Heritage reflected his view that the U.S. should discriminate against “low-skilled” immigrants.
The group has also tried to put an academic face on climate change denial and emerged as one of the driving forces promoting the false claim that U.S. elections are riddled with widespread voter fraud, and DeMint even admitted that Heritage is promoting voter restriction laws “all over the country, because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.”
Heritage is now aiming to bring its political agenda, viewed as radical and extreme even by many Republicans, not only to the Trump administration, but also to the Supreme Court.