“How an Anti-Abortion Law Firm Teamed Up With a Disgraced Kansas Attorney to Dispute the 2020 Election”

ProPublica deep dive:

For decades, lawyers at the Thomas More Society have backed provocateurs and long shot causes in hopes of winning severe restrictions on abortion in the U.S.

As others in the anti-abortion movement distanced themselves from clinic protestors accused of trespassing, vandalism and sometimes violence, the Thomas More Society defended them in civil and criminal court. The legal nonprofit once sided with a Wisconsin pharmacist who refused to fill a birth control prescription on religious grounds.

More recently, the Chicago-based organization has embraced a far different but equally divisive undertaking — relentlessly questioning the integrity of elections. Leaping into the 2020 “Stop the Steal” frenzy, which was consistently discredited, the Thomas More Society aggressively pursued scores of lawsuits and complaints across the country.

Yet for all the scrutiny given to election denialism and its champions — including Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn and Sidney Powell, former advisers to President Donald Trump — the significant role played by the Thomas More Society has received little attention.

One of its strategists, Phill Kline, tried to convince state legislatures in swing states to hold off on certifying Joe Biden’s electors, a maneuver that drew the notice of the House Jan. 6 committee. Kline is the former attorney general of Kansas whose law license was suspended indefinitely a decade ago by the state Supreme Court over ethical violations. Interviews and records examined by ProPublica show how closely aligned Kline has been with the Thomas More Society.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the fight over abortion is increasingly playing out at the state level and local elections for legislators and judges have taken on added weight. “That’s why it’s doubly important for pro-life advocates to ensure the integrity of state and local elections,” one of the group’s attorneys wrote in an op-ed last summer.

Thomas More’s role in the push to change election law should not be underestimated, say abortion rights groups familiar with the legal society’s tactics and record.

An examination by ProPublica of Thomas More’s 2020 election-law initiative shows it helped fuel skepticism over President Joe Biden’s victory and the fairness of elections in numerous states.

The legal machinations haven’t led to big victories in court so far, and in fact Thomas More’s efforts have sometimes drawn ridicule from the bench. In one such rebuke, a judge concluded that the real goal of a Thomas More attorney’s request was “the undermining of a democratic election for President of the United States.”

But these persistent legal challenges mirror the approaches used in the fight over abortion: Never stop pushing for the cause in court or legislatures. Play the long game….

In tossing one of the Amistad Project’s suits in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge William C. Griesbach wrote that they offered “only a political argument” and “their brief is bereft of any legal argument” that would support their claim.

Another Wisconsin judge, in state court, rejected the Thomas More Society’s lawyer’s characterization of the grants as “election bribery,” calling the assertion “ridiculous.”

Likewise, a federal judge in Iowa ruled in a case brought by the Thomas More Society that “the record contains no evidence” supporting accusations that the grants “pose an actual risk of shaping the outcome of any election or of favoring any particular party or candidate.”

Kline said he strongly disagreed with the judges’ opinions and believed the cases were valid.

In Wisconsin, the uproar over the grants became a central element of a taxpayer-funded, partisan review of the 2020 election, led by Trump supporter Michael Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice. Erick Kaardal, a Thomas More Society attorney, worked closely with Gableman, who was appointed by the speaker of the state Assembly, a Republican.

Much of Gableman’s final report, released in March 2022, echoed the society’s assertions about private election grants and one of its other chief concerns: the validity of some votes from nursing homes. The state Assembly speaker later shut down the inquiry and Gableman got a job with the Thomas More Society.

Despite the court losses, the society considers its assault on the Zuckerberg funds to be a major success because it “blazed the trail” for two dozen states to ban private funding of election administration, according to the memo Thomas More provided.

The organization also considers its efforts to ban ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin a success. It did not win through court action, but as increasing attention was paid to the drop boxes, the state Supreme Court ruled their use unlawful. Five cities embroiled in suits brought by Thomas More then abandoned their support for the boxes and the cases were dismissed.

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