Conservatives used to criticize judicial activism, which occurs when judges make decisions that affect public policy. They believed that judges were overstepping their power and going against the will of the American people. However, as conservatives have come to rely more on judges to support their policies and block reform, they have changed their stance and sought closer ties with the courts.
This shift has taken many years. Initially, conservative legal leaders were not very concerned with abortion and wanted to avoid the divisiveness of the issue. However, anti-abortion activists worked to gain influence within the conservative legal movement by emphasizing arguments that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, had no basis in the Constitution.
Anti-abortion activists realized that relying on judges appointed by Republicans wasn’t enough to advance their cause. They looked for judges who were ideologically committed to conservative causes and willing to challenge established legal principles and popular opinion. Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court justice known for his strong conservative views, became a role model for these activists.
Leonard Leo, an attorney who supported Thomas during his confirmation hearings, became a key figure in the conservative legal movement. He sought to build connections between the anti-abortion movement and judges and developed methods for selecting judges who shared conservative values. Leo played a significant role in the nominations and confirmations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and the three Trump-nominated justices who ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade.
Leo’s influence grew, and he received a large donation for his legal network. Overall, conservatives have shifted their approach to the courts and now actively seek to secure favorable policies through judicial decisions.
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