The Sordid Record of John Eastman, the Latest Right-Wing Lawyer on Trump’s Legal Team

Law professor John Eastman (Image from Feb. 19, 2020 appearance on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle.")

This week, President Donald Trump sought to join—in his personal capacity as a presidential candidate—a request made by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Texas to sue Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election by disenfranchising those states’ voters. Many legal observers consider the Texas filing to be, in the words of election law expert Richard Hasen, “utter garbage.” But that hasn’t stopped more than a dozen Republican attorneys general from seeking to join the effort.

The lawyer representing Trump in his request to join the Texas effort is John Eastman, a law professor who has long advanced positions on the far-right fringe of the legal community on issues ranging from immigration to LGBTQ equality to separation of church and state. Eastman appeared on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show this week to talk about the Supreme Court’s “original and exclusive” jurisdiction over disputes between states. He noted that the Court has asked defendant states to respond to Texas’s motion asking for Supreme Court permission to sue the four states.  “My gut’s they’re going to take it and look at it on the merits,” he said.

Eastman, a former law clerk for the hard-right Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, directs the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Claremont Institute, which former Right Wing Watch investigative reporter Jared Holt called “an increasingly white nationalist think tank” in 2019. That year, Claremont made “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec a Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Lincoln Fellow.

In August, Eastman published a column in Newsweek questioning whether Sen. Kamala Harris, who was born in Oakland, California, to immigrant parents, was qualified to be vice president. Eastman’s Birtherism 2.0 was widely mocked, and Newsweek eventually apologized after an outcry from staff, but it got Trump’s attention. As the Daily Beast noted, Trump called Eastman “brilliant” after his bogus attack on Harris’ eligibility.

As RWW noted in August:

Eastman has been one of the most vocal advocates for eliminating the 14th Amendment’s protection of birthright citizenship. He has argued that it would not take a constitutional amendment, just a court decision or act of Congress to change what he believes to be an erroneous interpretation of the 14th Amendment. These ideas put him on the fringes of the right-wing legal movement.

Eastman is also a zealous opponent of legal equality for LGBTQ people. In 2000, Eastman called homosexuality an indicator of “barbarism.” A longtime chairman of the anti-LGBTQ National Organization for Marriage, he called the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling overturning state laws that criminalized consensual gay sex “despotic” and warned that marriage equality for same-sex couples would have “catastrophic consequences for civil society.”

In a speech to the Family Research Council in 2015, Eastman defended Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act and said he hoped the country’s supreme court would reconsider its decision to throw out the law on a technicality. Eastman was one of the signers of the “Cape Town Declaration,” a global declaration of war on marriage equality issued as part of NOM’s launch of its International Organization for the Family, and he has participated in World Congress of Families gatherings of anti-LGBTQ activists.

In 2016, Eastman was a vocal supporter of Republican senators’ refusal to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Tea Party activist Sharron Angle, who unsuccessfully challenged then-Sen. Harry Reid in 2010, said at the time that Eastman would make the “perfect” Supreme Court justice.

As Right Wing Watch has noted:

Eastman’s support for the Supreme Court’s infamous 1905 Lochner decision—which ushered in an era in which the court rejected economic and labor regulations—puts him in opposition to the late Antonin Scalia, who opposed the Lochner ruling.

Eastman ​has also take​n a fringe position—one taken by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom Eastman clerked—that the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion does not apply to the states, and has argued that a state taxing people to support an official church, as some states did early in the nation’s history, was not all that coercive.

You can find more detail about Eastman’s record in a 2016 Right Wing Watch profile.

Eastman has tried his hand at electoral politics a couple of times. In 1990, he was the Republican nominee for Congress from the 34th District in California. And in 2010, he ran for California Attorney General. While Eastman was defeated in the Republican primary, the ultimate winner of that race was Kamala Harris.