How did we end up with a conservative Catholic Supreme Court?

It’s peculiar. We’re supposed to have a separation of church and state, but somehow we’ve ended up with not just a religious court, but a sectarian religious court. The answer, obviously, is money. Someone or someones has been skewing the court rightwards by sinking lots of money into it — buying the law, basically. But who?

Here’s a candidate:

Meet Neil and Ann Corkery, a pair of veteran Republican operatives who have cultivated a robust network of conservative and Catholic-affiliated nonprofits, charities and funds notable for their near-total opacity. For more than a decade, the Corkerys have leveraged this network to prop up conservative judicial nominees, most of whom have been devout Catholics. Robert Maguire, research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told Salon that “while most Americans wouldn’t recognize their names,” the Corkerys “have been the overseers of massive amounts of money that have gone into federal judicial races.”

“They have the discipline to not talk,” Maguire explained, acknowledging the dearth of reporting on the duo. “They don’t have social media accounts. They don’t give public speeches. They’ve done a really good job of limiting the amount of public information on them.”

We do, however, know bits and pieces. It’s likely that the Corkery empire started around 2008, when Ann Corkery, a partner at the Washington law firm Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner, established the now defunct Wellspring Committee, a 501(c)(4) organization that took in tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds, of millions, from undisclosed donors for upwards of a decade. Wellspring was founded with the help of Charles and David Koch, and raised its first $10 million seedling donation from attendees at a Koch donor seminar.

The scary thing about the Corkerys is that they were smart enough to keep quiet about what they were doing, while cunningly recruiting millionaire donors to fund a campaign to make sure Catholics are packing the judiciary. They’re organizing horrid little pissant billionaires like the Kochs, and focusing interest in a particular direction. The worst thing to have is a clever enemy.

The Corkerys’ political influence, as Maguire pointed out, has a highly specific orientation rooted in religious faith. “When you look at the way money has flowed through the groups [Wellspring] is affiliated with,” he explained, “you see a long history of supporting groups that fought against marriage equality and anti-abortion.”

In 1990, the Corkerys gave an interview to the South Florida Sun Sentinel describing themselves as members of Opus Dei, an enigmatic and highly secretive society within the Catholic Church. According to a 2013 investigative report from the liberal group Catholics for Choice, members of Opus Dei “vehemently oppose legislation that allows divorce or civil marriages, as well as homosexuality and contraception.” Critics have also alleged that the group has internally supported various authoritarian world leaders.

If you’ve ever wondered how unqualified incompetents like Kavanaugh and Barrett ended up on the highest court in the land, just look at the Corkerys and their influence.

Hooray for Democracy, where it’s not people who shape the leadership, but the dollars that vote.


  1. call me mark says

    How do these [m,b]illionaires who claim to be Christians reconcile their wealth with “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”?

  2. SchreiberBike says

    This morning, still in my not quite awake mode, I read from the Miami Herald primarily about Ron DeSantis, “Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and in Florida we walk the line here”. People are no longer ashamed of Christian nationalism. Republicans have long been calling their opposition evil, now they are saying that anyone who disagrees with them is against God. It has nothing to do with religion or any god for them, but people like DeSantis see it as a winning strategy.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    Answer: because the candidates comitted perjury during the confirmation hearings, in the secure knowledge there would be no consequences.
    And because the Democrats in the senate are eunuchs who mostly care about their big donors.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    How did we end up with a conservative Catholic Supreme Court?

    But why are they specifically Catholic? Because the deepest sources for “social conservatives” are the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Protestants. And the Protestants are more likely to be anti-education, and therefore not receive the training necessary to become a judge.

  5. revmatty says

    I do wonder how much someone affiliated with these groups funnels into stoking Q threads because the fact that it is a community obsessed with conspiracy theories and secret cabals controlling the world and yet not a single peep from them about actual documented nefarious actions by conservative groups seems… odd.

  6. Akira MacKenzie says


    1) It is by Gawd’s will that they are “blessed” with obscene wealth.

    2) All commies are atheists, therefore a good Christian must be a capitalist.

  7. Akira MacKenzie says


    Yup. Shot is wife, his daughter, and even his dog! Then he went out to do battle with the forces of the Deep State by firing on police.

    You can guess how that confrontation ended.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    If he had just started by shooting at the police, it would have been a straightforward Darwin award without great loss to society.
    -The paranoia and fear is an essential ingredience in maintaining the status quo, but now the process has gotten away from the instigators.

  9. whywhywhy says


    First, it is a misstep to apply reason to anything biblical.
    Second, all Christians (which includes Catholics, some Christians dispute this) are very good at reading the parts to the Bible they like and ignoring the parts that conflict with the parts that they like. This is a key skill in order to be a Christian (how else could there be over 40,000 flavors of Christianity).
    Third, pointing out the logical conflicts will eventually make you an outcast, heretic, etc. This step helps protect the flock from too much education among other dangers to the community.

  10. StevoR says

    Toanswer the title question :

    How did we end up with a conservative Catholic Supreme Court?

    Yes because of what PZ wrote in the OP & also what #3 birgerjohansson wrote and because the anti-Democratic Electoral College (along with other things incl Comey & Assanges interventions and Murdoch’s decades long misogynist slander campiagn & the Berniebros too) robbed the Amercian people of seeing their collective wishes for Hillary Rodham Clinton rather than Trump becoming POTUS in 2016.

    HRC would NOT have appointed regressive misogynist blatantly partisan SCOTUS injustices like Trump did.

  11. says

    From Leonard Leo’s Wikipedia page:

    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 various capacities for more than 25 years. In 2019, The Washington Post reported that the Federalist Society had paid Leo an annual salary of more than $400,000 for a number of years.[2]

    Leo took leaves of absence 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; he 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 raised funds to rename George Mason University’s Law School the Antonin Scalia Law School.[6] Leo worked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block President Barack Obama’s replacement appointee, Merrick Garland and 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]

    [It’s now 2/3]

    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]

    In October 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 Trump not to act on an election year Supreme Court vacancy, saying he had never asked Trump about the possible scenario, but that it was Leo’s opinion that he 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 Ginsburg; this ultimately resulted in the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett.[20]

    Leo was 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]

    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][43][44] Leo is a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order.[45][46]

    Leo has a summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where he has been the target of periodic protests due to his advocacy for anti-abortion Supreme Court justices.[47] In the weeks following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, protests have been held on an almost daily basis.[48]