Trump's Supreme Court Nomination Already Reeks of DC Sleaze

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White House spokesperson Raj Shah confirmed today that former Sen. Jon Kyl will lead the efforts to guide whoever Donald Trump nominates to the Supreme Court, a role that is for some reason described as a “sherpa.”


Apart from helping Facebook figure out whether it’s biased against conservatives (it isn’t), Kyl spends his days as “senior of counsel” at the law firm Covington & Burling, which is an interesting title because what he is, in fact, is a lobbyist. He has registered to lobby every year since 2015. In 2018 so far, he has registered to lobby on behalf of Qualcomm, JW Aluminum, and a copper mining company named Freeport-McMoRan. Freeport paid C&B $20,000 last quarter to dispatch Kyl to lobby the White House Council on Environmental Quality to add copper to the list of “critical minerals,” which would “invigorate” domestic mining— that is, allow mining companies to pollute pristine lakes by mining copper. Sounds both boring and evil, if you ask me, but what do I know? I don’t charge $20,000 for what sounds like at most 50 minutes’ work, probably conducted over a single lunch.

Another of Kyl’s cool clients is the Judicial Crisis Network, a huge, secretive and thoroughly shady non-profit. It spent $7 million on ads persuading Republican senators to block Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016, and $10 million supporting Neil Gorsuch in 2017. (It also spends on state-level races.) Most of its money in 2016 came from another non-profit, the Wellspring Committee, which in turn got most of its money from an anonymous donor. Wellspring doesn’t have to disclose who that donor is.

JCN paid Covington & Burling $215,000 last year to lobby the Senate in support of Gorsuch’s nomination, and Kyl, along with another lobbyist named William Wichterman, did the work.

This doesn’t make Jon Kyl any more or less corrupt in his role of Nominee Shepherd. They want the same thing. He’s already trying to get the nominee through; being paid by JCN doesn’t make him any worse than he already is, which is very bad. But it is a great reminder that every single part of this process is oiled with money. Everyone involved is touched by these millions of completely secret dollars from some millionaire—maybe the Mercers, or the Kochs, or someone else entirely—whose millions have made that individual more capable of influencing our democracy than a million or ten million other Americans.

The JCN itself is merely a large son of the conservative judicial activist group the Federalist Society; it was the brainchild of Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society’s executive vice president, who was the man to connect Gorsuch with Trump in the first place. Leo’s former media relations director from another organization told the Daily Beast that JCN is “absolutely Leonard’s group.”


There is a massive, well-funded network dedicated to remaking the American judiciary into a conservative wet dream by attacking unions and abortion rights, dismantling voting rights, and upholding bans on certain kinds of immigrants. Trump will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court tonight, and this network will spring into action, with its old pal Jon Kyl ready to assist. Everyone should be terrified and livid about this travesty of democracy, and everyone who deals with the people who had a hand in it, from Kyl to Covington & Burling as a whole, should be ashamed. Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder should resign from C&B if he’s going to act like he cares about anything at all, let alone gerrymandering, which was recently upheld by the JCN-bought Supreme Court.

Maybe we should be grateful to Jon Kyl for stepping up. It’s helpful to be reminded, as often and in as many ways as possible, the scale of what we’re up against. It’s not just the big baddies that we know, the Kochs and the Mercers, or the Trumps, even; Boring & Mundane, LLP, your favorite bipartisan lobbying firm, are just as likely to help them out.

Splinter politics writer.