Washington Post: Federalist Society Lawyers Are Conflicted About Working for a Second Trump Administration Amidst Demands for Greater Personal Loyalty


Now the dominant front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination, Trump has broken with many of the leaders and allies of the Federalist Society, a powerful conservative legal organization that boosted his campaign eight years ago and helped him stock the federal bench with their preferred picks. It is unclear how he would seek to fill judicial vacancies and make other related decisions should he win a second term, and he has not offered such a potential list of potential judicial nominees as he did eight years ago.

Trump has complained publicly and privately that his first-term Justice Department leaders were too weak, that his Supreme Court picks have tried to come across as too “independent” and that the court system has broadly been biased against him, as he faces 91 felony charges. Trump told donors in meetings in late 2023 that one of his only mistakes as president was that he did not pick the right people to lead the Justice Department, according to people who attended, and he regularly discusses plans for the department in a second term. In some ways, the handshake agreement he once held with the traditional conservative legal movement has evaporated…

Trump has more broadly gravitated away from the GOP establishment he has long derided but learned to work with in his term as president. The implications of his shift could be significant — from potentially imperiling a long-observed firewall between the White House and the Justice Department, to appointing lawyers in his administration willing to approve novel approaches to the law and dare courts to stop them, to shifting the nation’s courts further to the right.

The former president will be looking forappointees“who are talented and strong and — here’s the key ingredient — truly committed to helping him accomplish his agenda,” said Mark Paoletta, former general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump….

Trump now rails against the Federalist Society privately, according to advisers. He no longer speaks to many lawyers who were once instrumental, including former Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, former White House counsel and Federalist Society board member Donald McGahn, or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — the triumvirate who propelled much of his judicial record in the first term….

Leo said he felt Trump would continue to nominate conservative judges who interpret the meaning of the Constitution as it was written because he does not have much of a choice. He has told others he no longer talks to Trump’s advisers and is largely focused on spending billions to reshape the country in a more conservative direction with a focus on non-election issues.

“I can’t see a situation where Donald Trump doesn’t pick originalist judges if he gets a second term, because the Federalist Society has won the philosophical debate, and the current court is now upholding the rule of law and the Constitution more than at any other time in modern history. This remains a clear and necessary path for victory for any Republican,” Leo said….

Most members of the Federalist Society board of directors declined to comment on the record or did not respond to a request for comment. Interviews with a dozen other prominent lawyers suggested most had serious misgivings about Trump returning to power but were resigned to the high likelihood he will be the nominee, and many expressed openness to working for another Trump administration.

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