131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest

The judges failed to recuse themselves from 685 lawsuits from 2010 to 2018 involving firms in which they or their family held shares, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

By James V. Grimaldi, Coulter Jones and Joe Palazzolo

More than 130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and judicial ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that judges have improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 court cases around the nation since 2010. The jurists were appointed by nearly every president from Lyndon Johnson to Donald Trump.

About two-thirds of federal district judges disclosed holdings of individual stocks, and nearly one of every five who did heard at least one case involving those stocks.

Alerted to the violations by the Journal, 56 of the judges have directed court clerks to notify parties in 329 lawsuits that they should have recused themselves. That means new judges might be assigned, potentially upending rulings.

When judges participated in such cases, about two-thirds of their rulings on motions that were contested came down in favor of their or their family’s financial interests. 

In New York, Judge Edgardo Ramos handled a suit between an Exxon Mobil Corp. unit and TIG Insurance Co. over a pollution claim while owning between $15,001 and $50,000 of Exxon stock, according to his financial disclosure form. He accepted an arbitration panel’s opinion that TIG should pay Exxon $25 million and added $8 million of interest to the tab.

In Colorado, Judge Lewis Babcock oversaw a case involving a ComcastCorp. subsidiary, ruling in its favor, while he or his family held between $15,001 and $50,000 of Comcast stock.

At an Ohio-based appeals court, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote an opinion that favored Ford Motor Co. in a trademark dispute while her husband held stock in the auto maker. After she and the others on the three-judge appellate panel heard arguments but before they ruled, her husband’s financial adviser bought two chunks of Ford stock, each valued at up to $15,000, for his retirement account, according to her disclosure form.

Edgardo Ramos, Lewis Babcock, Julia Smith Gibbons

The hundreds of recusal violations found by the Journal breach a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence: No one should be a judge of his or her own cause. Congress first laid out that principle in 1792 to guarantee litigants an impartial judge and reassure the public that courts could be trusted.

Judge Ramos, who oversaw the Exxon case, was unaware of his violation, said an official of the New York federal court, because his “recusal list”—a tally judges keep of parties they shouldn’t have in their courtrooms—listed only parent Exxon Mobil Corp. and not the unit, whose name includes the additional word “oil.” The official said the court conflict-screening software relied on exact matches.

The unit had informed the court at the outset of the case that it was a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil so Judge Ramos could “evaluate possible disqualification or recusal,” a court filing shows.

See the federal judges with financial conflicts


After the Journal contacted Judge Ramos, who was named to the court by former President Barack Obama, the court’s clerk notified the parties of his stockholding. TIG attorneys asked the court to set aside his ruling and send the case to a new judge because of “the inevitable appearance of partiality.” Exxon opposed assigning a new judge, calling that a “manifest unfairness, gross inefficiency, and waste of judicial resources.” An appellate court has put a hearing on hold until the district court decides what to do.

In the Comcast case, a Colorado couple asked Judge Babcock to issue an order blocking Comcast from accessing their property to install fiber-optic cable. Representing themselves in court, Andrew O’Connor and Mary Henry accused Comcast workers of bullying them, scaring their 10-year-old daughter and injuring their dog, Einstein, allegations the company denied. Judge Babcock, who was appointed to the court by former President Ronald Reagan, ruled the couple had “continually blocked Comcast’s access to the easement.” He sent the case back to state court, as Comcast wanted.

“I dropped the ball,” Judge Babcock said when asked about the recusal violation. He blamed flawed internal procedures. “Thank you for helping me stay on my toes the way I’m supposed to,” he said. A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. O’Connor, who settled his case in state court, said, “If you are a federal judge, you should not be holding individual stocks.” 

Judge Gibbons from the Ford trademark case, appointed to the appeals court by former President George W. Bush, said she had mistakenly believed holdings in her husband’s retirement account didn’t require her recusal. She later directed the clerk of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to notify the parties of the violation and said that her husband has since told his financial adviser not to buy individual stocks. 

“I regret my misunderstanding, but I assure you it was an honest one,” she said. 

A spokesman for Ford said: “A fair and impartial judiciary is critical to the integrity of our legal system. In this case, the violation of Ford’s trademarks was clear.”

“I dropped the ball. Thank you for helping me stay on my toes the way I’m supposed to.”— Judge Lewis Babcock, when asked about his violations 

Nothing bars judges from owning stocks, but federal law since 1974 has prohibited judges from hearing cases that involve a party in which they, their spouses or their minor children have a “legal or equitable interest, however small.” That law and the Judicial Conference of the U.S., which is the federal courts’ policy-making body, require judges to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. Although most lawsuits don’t directly affect a company’s stock price, the Supreme Court in 1988 said the law’s purpose is to promote confidence in the judiciary. 

Conflict-of-interest rules are common for state and federal employees as well as for lawyers, journalists and corporate executives. U.S. government workers may not participate “personally and substantially” in matters in which they have a financial interest.

The Journal reviewed financial disclosure forms filed annually for 2010 through 2018 by roughly 700 federal judges who reported holding individual stocks of large companies, and then compared those holdings to tens of thousands of court dockets in civil cases. The same conflict rules apply to criminal cases, but large companies are rarely charged, and the Journal found no instances of judges holding shares of corporate criminal defendants in their courts.

It found that 129 federal district judges and two federal appellate judges had at least one case in which a stock they or their family owned was a plaintiff or defendant.

Judges’ stockholdings exceeded $15,000 in 173 cases and $50,000 in 21 of those cases, although under the law, the amount doesn’t matter.

The Journal found 61 judges or their families not only holding stocks in companies that were plaintiffs or defendants in the judges’ courts but also trading the stocks during cases.

Judges offered a variety of explanations for the violations. Some blamed court clerks. Some said their recusal lists had misspellings that foiled the conflict-screening software. Some pointed to trades that resulted in losses. Others said they had only nominal roles, such as confirming settlements or transferring cases to other courts, though there is no legal exemption for such work.

The ethics code for federal judges “requires recusal when a judge has a financial conflict, regardless of the substance of the judge’s actual involvement in the case,” the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Codes of Conduct wrote in a letter to a judge this month.

Some blamed court clerks. Some said their recusal lists had misspellings. Some pointed to trades that resulted in losses.

In response to the Journal’s findings, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said: “The Wall Street Journal’s report on instances where conflicts inadvertently were not identified before a case was resolved or transferred is troubling, and the Administrative Office is carefully reviewing the matter.”

It said the federal judiciary “takes very seriously its obligations to preclude any financial conflicts of interest” and has taken steps, such as conflict-screening software and ethics training, to prevent violations. “We have in place a number of safeguards and are looking for ways to improve,” the office said. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, who heads the federal judiciary, didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

The nation’s roughly 600 full-time federal trial judges, supplemented by about 460 semiretired jurists called senior judges, wield enormous power. Holding lifetime appointments, they preside over hundreds of thousands of civil and criminal cases each year in 94 court districts. 

They have soup-to-nuts control over all elements of their courtrooms, from pretrial process and trial to criminal pleas, judgments and sentencing. Judges have wide latitude for fact findings and evidentiary rulings, most of which can be overturned only for abuse of discretion, a high hurdle.

Violations of the 1974 law almost never become public. Judges’ financial disclosures aren’t online, are cumbersome to request and sometimes take years to access.

Judges are informed if anyone requests to see their disclosures, creating a disincentive for lawyers who might fear annoying judges in whose courtrooms they frequently appear.

Judges rarely make public the lists of companies on whose cases they shouldn’t work. When judges disqualify themselves from cases, they typically don’t disclose details. No judges in modern times have been removed from the federal bench solely for having a financial interest in a plaintiff or defendant that appeared in their courtroom.

“I just blew it. I regret any question that I’ve created an appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest.”— Judge Timothy Batten Sr., when notified of his violations 

The Journal analyzed data from the Free Law Project, a nonpartisan legal-research nonprofit that is planning to post judicial disclosure forms online. The findings amount to a pervasive disregard for the judicial conflict-of-interest laws, legal experts said.

A recusal violation in isolation could be viewed as an oversight, but the Journal’s investigation “raises a more systemic problem of judges chronically neglecting their duty to disqualify in such cases,” said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University, who specializes in judicial conduct, ethics and accountability.

The findings “are both surprising and disappointing,” said Timothy Batten Sr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and a member of the Committee on Codes of Conduct for the Judicial Conference of the U.S.

“I believe in the vast majority of these cases, it is an oversight and indolence,” he added.

Judge Batten himself owned shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co. while he heard 11 lawsuits involving the bank, most of which ended in the bank’s favor, the Journal’s analysis shows. 

“I am mortified,” Judge Batten said in a phone interview when notified about his violations, which occurred in 2010 and 2011, before he joined the Codes of Conduct committee in 2019. “I had no idea that I had an interest in any of these companies in what was a most modest retirement account” managed by a broker.

“I just blew it. I regret any question that I’ve created or appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest,” he said.

Timothy Batten Sr., Janis Sammartino, Rodney Gilstrap

Judge Batten, appointed by former President George W. Bush, said he stopped investing in individual stocks in 2012 and moved his portfolio to mutual funds, which don’t require recusal, and has since closed the account.

The Journal analyzed cases to determine whether judges made rulings on contested motions, such as those seeking dismissal or summary judgment. Judges ruled on contested motions in 21% of the nearly 700 cases in question. 

Those rulings favored the judges’ financial interests in 94 cases, went against the judges’ interest in 27 cases and had mixed outcomes in 24 cases.

Already, several parties on the losing side of the rulings have petitioned for a new judge to hear their cases after they were alerted to the violations identified by the Journal. 

Several judges misunderstood the law, initially saying that they didn’t have to recuse themselves because their shares were held in accounts run by a money manager.

The ban on holding even a single share of a company while presiding in a case involving the firm means judges must be vigilant. The 1974 law requires judges to inform themselves about their own financial interests and make a “reasonable effort” to do the same for their spouses and any minor children. The Judicial Conference of the U.S. requires courts to use conflict-checking software to help identify cases where judges should bow out.

Judge Janis Sammartino of California traded in stocks of Bank of America Corp., CVS Health Corp., Deutsche Bank AG, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., HSBC Holdings PLC, JPMorgan, PfizerInc., Public Storage, Wells Fargo & Co. and Microsoft Corp. while hearing 18 lawsuits involving one or more of those companies, the Journal found. In all, she heard 54 cases involving companies held in her family’s trusts.

In the Microsoft case, a Chicago man alleged the software giant violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending an unsolicited text about its Xbox gaming console to his mobile phone. He filed suit in 2011. One of Judge Sammartino’s family trusts bought Microsoft stock twice in 2012 and added three purchases in 2013.

The plaintiff’s lawyers sought in 2013 to turn the case into a class action involving 91,708 people who allegedly received the text messages. Microsoft said that it had received permission to send the texts but that records confirming this had been destroyed. Had a class been approved, the case could potentially have cost Microsoft more than $45 million, according to court filings by the plaintiff.

Judge Sammartino denied the class-action motion as well as Microsoft’s motion to dismiss the case. She ruled that the law permitted the plaintiff to seek damages of $500 for one alleged violation, potentially tripled. He appealed but settled before the appeal was heard. A spokesman for Microsoft declined to comment. One of the plaintiff’s lawyers also declined to comment. 

Judge Sammartino, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, initially referred questions from the Journal to William Cracraft, a spokesman for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “She asked me to let you know” her stocks “are in a managed account, so she’s not seeing as how there could be a conflict,” Mr. Cracraft said. “She’s not inclined to discuss her private business with you since it is all in managed accounts, and she thinks that’s sufficient.”

An opinion by the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Codes of Conduct in 2013 confirmed that judges must bow out of cases involving stocks they own in accounts run by money managers.

Judge Sammartino later informed the court clerk’s office of the conflicts, and the office filed a letter notifying parties to the Microsoft case and other cases with violations identified by the Journal.

“Judge Sammartino was not aware of this financial interest at the time the case was pending,” the letter said. “The matter was brought to her attention after disposition of the case. Thus, the financial interest neither affected nor impacted her decisions in this case. However, the financial interest would have required recusal.”

Before the Journal contacted Judge Sammartino about her recusal violations, she disqualified herself in at least 10 other cases involving companies whose stocks were listed on her disclosure forms, a review of her cases shows.

Judge Rodney Gilstrap, chief of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, had the largest number of conflicts in the Journal’s analysis: 138 cases assigned to him involving companies in which he or his wife held an interest.

Judge Gilstrap said he believed he didn’t need to recuse himself from some cases because they required little or no action on his part, and in other cases because the stocks were in a trust created for his wife. Legal-ethics experts disagreed on both counts.

“I take my obligations related to potential conflicts/recusals seriously,” he said in an email. “Throughout my judicial career, I have endeavored to comply with all such obligations, and I will continue to do so.” 

Judge Sammartino’s 54 conflicts were the second-most recusal violations. Brian Martinotti in New Jersey ranked third, handling 44 cases involving companies in which he had invested. Among his biggest holdings was Alphabet Inc., the parent of Google. He disclosed in 2016, 2017 and 2018 that he owned $15,001 to $50,000 of Alphabet shares. 

Brian Martinotti, Gershwin Drain, Emily Marks

In 2017, the judge threw out a lawsuit against Google alleging that videos on its YouTube unit falsely said the plaintiff was a sex offender, ruling that the Communications Decency Act let Google off the hook.

Judge Martinotti, an Obama appointee, didn’t respond to requests for comment, but after the Journal inquired, the district court clerk notified parties to 44 cases of Judge Martinotti’s stock ownership. His Alphabet holding didn’t affect the judge’s decisions but would have required recusal, the clerk wrote. A spokesman for Google declined to comment.

“I would like my case to be re-opened as Judge Brian R. Martinotti was unfairly biased and should have recused himself from my case,” the plaintiff, Nuwan Weerahandi, wrote in an August 2021 letter to the court, after receiving notice of Judge Martinotti’s violation.

The chief judge of the New Jersey federal court, Freda Wolfson, denied Mr. Weerahandi’s request on Sept. 2, saying the Communications Decency Act bars defamation-related claims against computer services such as Google. 

“Importantly, in making this purely legal determination, Judge Martinotti did not engage in any factfinding that would bear on the credibility of any party, including you,” Judge Wolfson wrote

In at least 18 instances, judges disqualified themselves over conflicts, only to have the case reassigned to a judge who also had a conflict but didn’t recuse.

In 2015, Judge Robert Cleland in Michigan, a George H.W. Bush appointee, bowed out of a suit by an injured motorist against insurer Allstate Corp., whose stock the judge had been buying and selling that year. 

The case was reassigned to Judge Gershwin Drain, who also owned Allstate shares. Judge Drain heard the case—and six others involving Allstate—and wrote a ruling denying a request by the motorist to move the dispute to state court. The case then settled on undisclosed terms.

Presented with his conflicts in 42 cases, Judge Drain, an Obama appointee, said he had added notices to the court’s public docket for each suit.

“I can say with absolute certainty that I never made any decision in favor of a company because I owned stock and was invested in that company,” Judge Drain said in an email. “To prevent any future issues, however, I have taken steps to review any new cases and if I am invested in any of the companies among the new cases that are assigned to me I will immediately recuse myself.” Allstate didn’t respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for the motorist declined to comment.

Frequent recusals can upset courts’ random drawing of judges for cases and lead to a smaller pool. In 20 federal districts, a third or more judges owned the same stock in the same year. In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2017, fully a third disclosed a Microsoft stock holding. 

More than 340 federal appellate and trial judges reported holdings in Apple Inc. at some point from 2010 to 2018 and 300 in Microsoft. About 500 judges owned Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan or Wells Fargo shares at some point. 

Those numbers reflect only stock ownership, not recusal violations. However, the Journal found 37 judges who owned a bank stock while improperly hearing a case involving that bank.

Judge Emily Marks bought Wells Fargo stock two weeks after she was assigned a Wells Fargo case, a conflict that now threatens to upset a ruling she made.

In the suit, Jacob Springer and Jeanetta Springer of Roanoke, Ala., acted as their own attorneys in challenging Wells Fargo’s foreclosure of Ms. Springer’s father’s home. 

In court filings, they said her ailing father missed a mortgage payment three months before he died, after which his daughter, who inherited the home, made payments. Wells Fargo foreclosed, saying the Springers missed payments of about $4,100 on an outstanding mortgage of more than $80,000; they said they had missed just one $695 payment.

“This is outrageous. How am I supposed to know she owns stock in Wells Fargo?”— Jacob Springer, when told of the judge’s violation in the case he lost 

Judge Marks, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and an appointee of former President Donald Trump, was assigned the case in mid-August 2018. The judge bought Wells Fargo stock at the end of the month. In September, she adopted a magistrate judge’s recommendation to dismiss the Springers’ suit, a decision affirmed on appeal.

Judge Marks declined to comment. The court clerk told parties to the case that the judge had informed her of having owned the bank stock and directed the clerk to notify the parties. The clerk told them Judge Marks’s stock ownership didn’t affect her decisions in the case but would have required recusal. 

Mr. Springer said, “This is outrageous. How am I supposed to know she owns stock in Wells Fargo?”

The Springers asked the court to reopen the case, saying in a filing that “a non-interested Judge” might have let them amend their pleadings. The court assigned a new judge to their suit in July. A spokesman for Wells Fargo declined to comment. 

The nation’s 94 district courts are organized into 12 circuits, or regions. The Journal identified recusal violations in each region.

The U.S. Supreme Court wasn’t part of the Journal’s analysis. Nor did it include bankruptcy or magistrate judges.

Half of all federal trial and appellate judges in the Journal’s review disclosed minimum financial assets of $775,000 in 2018, while 31 reported a minimum of $10 million of assets. Some jurists joined the bench after lucrative careers in private practice.

Federal district judges draw an annual salary of $218,600, which isn’t much more than a first-year attorney at a top-tier law firm earns. Some judges said their salary level makes stock investments an attractive option.

Susan Webber Wright, Donald Graham, Benjamin Settle

“I have my judicial salary, but the law really restricts what else judges can do for additional income,” said Judge Susan Webber Wright in Arkansas. She said she held more stock when she was younger and trying to build a nest egg for her family.

Judge Wright, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, oversaw 2005 and 2006 cases involving Eli Lilly and Co. and Home Depot Inc. while owning shares of those companies. She issued no major rulings before one case settled and the other was transferred to another district.

“A judge has to be on her toes, and obviously I was not,” Judge Wright said.

Judges who have many conflicts are “either being careless or have people working for them who are not exercising due diligence,” she said, though she added that judges bear the ultimate responsibility for steering clear of conflicts.

Judge Donald Graham in Florida held American depositary receipts of Alcatel-Lucent while assigned to a case involving the French telecom maker. He sold the ADRs in 2010, a day after he approved a $45 million civil settlement between the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Alcatel-Lucent over allegations the company bribed foreign officials. The company neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

After being contacted by the Journal, Judge Graham, a George H.W. Bush appointee, notified the court clerk of the violation. In a publicly filed letter to the parties, the clerk said Judge Graham’s holding didn’t affect his decisions.

A lawyer for the SEC told the court the agency didn’t believe any further action was required. Alcatel-Lucent’s current owner, Nokia Corp., declined to comment.

Judge Benjamin Settle in Washington state sold as much as $15,000 of Amgen Inc. stock during a case that was settled in 2012. He sold the stock in 2008, while the suit was under seal, giving him access to nonpublic information about an allegation of kickbacks to doctors. The case contributed to a $762 million penalty against the biotech company in 2012.

Judge Settle, a George W. Bush appointee, said he hadn’t included all of his holdings on his recusal list when he inherited the case in 2007 as a newly commissioned federal judge. “Amgen was among those mistakenly omitted,” he said. 

Judge Settle said he directed his broker in 2008 to sell all of his stocks. A spokesman for Amgen declined to comment.

The Journal’s tally of recusal violations is likely an undercount. In Mississippi, Judge Sharion Aycock’s husband owned as much as $15,000 in shares of Dollar General Corp. at a time when the Journal found two cases she heard involving the retailer. After being asked about the matter, Judge Aycock found five more violations involving Dollar General and notified the clerk about all seven.

A few of the judges with violations the Journal identified had legendary careers, including Jack Weinstein and Arthur Spatt in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. 

Judge Weinstein, a Lyndon Johnson appointee, oversaw four cases involving Medtronic PLC or Target Corp. while he or his family held their shares. Judge Spatt, who was named to the court by former President George H.W. Bush, had a violation involving Johnson & Johnson. Judge Spatt died in 2020 and Judge Weinstein died earlier this year, both having served into their 90s.

Judge Margo Brodie, chief of the Eastern District, which includes New York City’s Brooklyn and Queens boroughs, acknowledged the conflicts but said the judges’ “involvement was minimal, limited to ministerial actions” such as approving settlements or opinions by magistrate judges.

“These two judges have been revered by the practicing bar for their integrity and even handedness,” Judge Brodie said in an email. “There has never been a suggestion, much less an accusation, that either ever acted inappropriately.”

The Journal identified 36 conflicts by one judge in Colorado, R. Brooke Jackson. The cases included Apple, Chevron Corp., Eli Lilly, FacebookInc., General Electric Co., Home Depot, Honeywell International Inc., Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan, Pfizer and Wells Fargo. 

“I have preferred to stay unknowledgeable about it.”— Judge R. Brooke Jackson, on the stocks in his and his wife’s portfolio 

Reached by phone, Judge Jackson said he had no idea which stocks he owns because a money manager handles them and because his wife fills out his disclosure forms. He said that because he doesn’t know, he couldn’t have a conflict of interest.

“I’ve never really paid much attention to it,” Judge Jackson said of his and his wife’s investments. “I have preferred to stay unknowledgeable about it.”

Told he was required to know under the law, he said: “That’s news to me.” 

In a later email, Judge Jackson, an Obama appointee, admitted his mistake. “I am taking immediate steps to provide a current list of stocks and other investments held by my wife and by me to our Clerk’s Office so that we can create an appropriate conflicts list and be sure that this does not happen again,” he wrote. 

Does some judges’ ownership of shares in companies in their courtrooms shake your confidence in the courts? Join the conversation below.

In a subsequent 21-page letter to the Journal, Judge Jackson said he should have recused himself in most if not all of the 36 cases.

“I am embarrassed that I did not properly understand and apply the stock ownership rule,” he wrote. “Being informed of what could be viewed as an ethical violation, even a technical one, is no fun.” 

R. Brooke Jackson, David Norton, Sharion Aycock

Judge David Norton in South Carolina presided over six asbestos suits beginning in 2012 while his disclosures show he held between $95,004 and $250,000 of stock in two defendants, 3M Co. and GE. 

In 2015 he heard a case filed by James Chesher, who alleged that he developed cancer from exposure to asbestos in the Navy. Mr. Chesher and his wife sought damages from 3M, GE and about two dozen other companies. They reached settlements with 3M and GE in 2016.

Mr. Chesher died in 2017. His widow, Cheryl Ann Chesher, was surprised to learn from the Journal of the judge’s financial interest in GE and 3M.

“He should have policed himself,” Ms. Chesher said. “He knows what the law is on that and he should have followed through,” she said, adding: “You have to wonder if he’s looking out for himself…rather than the clients.” 

In an emailed statement, Judge Norton said he didn’t recuse himself because 3M and GE played no significant role in the suits and were “defendants in name only.”

He added: “At the outset the lawyers involved in these cases assured me that 3M and GE would be dismissed and not involved in the case pursuant to a pre-existing agreement between the plaintiffs’ lawyers and GE and 3M.”

Peter Kraus, an attorney for the Cheshers, said he and his co-counsel “have no recollection about making any assurances to the judge that GE and 3M would be dismissed.” They “were sued because the evidence in the case implicated them, and were certainly not ‘defendants in name only,’ ” he said, adding that attorneys for both companies participated in depositions.

A 3M spokeswoman said neither the company nor its attorneys ever assured the judge regarding any dismissals. A spokeswoman for GE didn’t respond to questions about whether it had conveyed such an assurance. An attorney for GE said she didn’t recall the case.

Told what 3M and the plaintiffs’ attorney said, Judge Norton reiterated his recollection of the case.

As remaining asbestos defendants moved toward trial, Judge Norton, a George H.W. Bush appointee, issued rulings that broadly benefited companies with asbestos liabilities.

In hearings, he took aim at the theory behind the cases: that any exposure to asbestos was significant enough to contribute to their cancer. The defendants said the plaintiffs’ expert witness shouldn’t be allowed to testify because he was unable to show that the men more likely than not would have avoided the disease but for their exposure to the asbestos. Judge Norton sided with the companies, ruling that the expert witness’s testimony—“scientifically sound as it may be”—couldn’t be presented to a jury.

The ruling drew national attention. Plaintiffs’ lawyers denounced it, while lawyers who often defend corporations embraced it as common-sense analysis. A Harvard Law Review article blasted it, saying that “unrealistic legal expectations of science could do great injustice.”

Mr. Kraus, the Cheshers’s attorney, called the decision out of sync with court precedent on liability in asbestos cases. Other courts have adopted Judge Norton’s analysis, including the Ohio Supreme Court.

Mr. Kraus said he has never asked to see a judge’s financial disclosure form. He said he wasn’t sure he ever would. 

“If a judge who is considering a matter you have before him finds out that you’ve been snooping around about his finances, I’d be very concerned as a practitioner that it would cause a negative backlash that would affect my clients’ rights in the court,” Mr. Kraus said.

Judge Norton also violated an ethics rule when he bought a box of cuff links at an auction of the government-seized property of a man he earlier sentenced to prison for a Ponzi scheme, according to the chief judge of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The judge’s purchase did create an appearance of impropriety,” though it didn’t affect the sentence imposed, Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in 2017, without identifying the cuff links buyer.

Judge Gregory quoted the unnamed judge as saying he tried to “keep current on all ethical rules and take the yearly ethics test prepared by the Administrative office” but was unaware that his participation in the auction could create the appearance of impropriety.

Judge Norton, who confirmed in a separate filing that he bought the cuff links, told the Fourth Circuit: “Now that I have been made aware of this, my actions will not be repeated.”

Secretive Billionaire Handed Fortune to Architect of Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts

In the largest known political advocacy donation in U.S. history, industrialist Barre Seid funded a new group run by Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo, who guided Trump’s Supreme Court picks and helped end federal abortion rights.

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This story was co-published with The Lever.

An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court.

Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.

The donation was first reported by The New York Times on Monday. The Lever and ProPublica confirmed the information from documents received independently by the news organizations.

Our reporting sheds additional light on how the two men, one a judicial kingmaker and the other a mysterious but prolific donor to conservative causes, came together to create a political war chest that will likely supercharge efforts to further shift American politics to the right.

As President Donald Trump’s adviser on judicial nominations, Leo helped build the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority, which recently eliminated Constitutional protections for abortion rights and has made a series of sweeping pro-business decisions. Leo, a conservative Catholic, has both helped select judges to nominate to the Supreme Court and directed multimillion dollar media campaigns to confirm them.

Leo derives immense political power through his ability to raise huge sums of money and distribute those funds throughout the conservative movement to influence elections, judicial appointments and policy battles. Yet the biggest funders of Leo’s operation have long been a mystery.

Seid, who led the surge protector and data-center equipment maker Tripp Lite for more than half a century, has been almost unknown outside a small circle of political and cultural recipients. The gift immediately vaults him into the ranks of major funders like the Koch brothers and George Soros.

In practical terms, there are few limitations on how Leo’s new group, the Marble Freedom Trust, can spend the enormous donation. The structure of the donation allowed Seid to avoid as much as $400 million in taxes. Thus, he maximized the amount of money at Leo’s disposal.

Now, Leo, 56, is positioned to finance his already sprawling network with one of the largest pools of political capital in American history. Seid has left his legacy to Leo.

“To my knowledge, it is entirely without precedent for a political operative to be given control of such an astonishing amount of money,” said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance lawyer at the nonpartisan watchdog group Documented. “Leonard Leo is already incredibly powerful, and now he is going to have over a billion dollars at his disposal to continue upending our country’s institutions.”

In a statement to the Times, Leo said it was “high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left-wing philanthropists, going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our constitution and its ideals.” Leo and representatives for Seid did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Marble Freedom Trust is a so-called dark money group that is not required to publicly disclose its donors. It has wide latitude to spend directly on elections as well as on ideological projects such as funding issue-advocacy groups, think tanks, universities, religious institutions and organizing efforts.

In an unusual maneuver, Leonard Leo was added as an officer to Barre Seid’s company. Seid left the company’s board, and his name was crossed out in state corporate disclosure filings. Credit: Illinois Office of the Secretary of State

The creators of the Marble Freedom Trust shrouded their project in secrecy for more than two years.

The group’s name does not appear in any public database of business, tax or securities records. The Marble Freedom Trust is organized for legal purposes as a trust, rather than as a corporation. That means it did not have to publicly disclose basic details like its name, directors and address.

The trust was formed in Utah. Its address is a house in North Salt Lake owned by Tyler Green, a lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Green is listed in the trust’s tax return as an administrative trustee. The donation does not appear to violate any laws.

Seid’s $1.6 billion donation is a landmark in the era of deregulated political spending ushered in by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That case, along with subsequent changes and weak federal oversight, empowered a tiny group of the super rich in both parties to fund groups that can spend unlimited sums to support candidates and political causes. In the last decade, donations in the millions and sometimes tens of millions of dollars have become common.

Individuals could give unlimited amounts of money to nonprofit groups prior to Citizens United, but the decision allowed those nonprofits to more directly influence elections. A handful of billionaires such as the Koch family and Soros have spent billions to achieve epochal political influence by bankrolling networks of nonprofits.

Even in this money-drenched world, Seid’s $1.6 billion gift exceeds all publicly known one-time donations to a politically oriented group.

The Silent Donor

One day in November 2015, the employees of Tripp Lite, a manufacturer of power strips and other electrical equipment, gathered for a celebration at the company’s headquarters on the South Side of Chicago. Cupcakes frosted in blue and white spelled out the numbers “56.” An easel held up a sign hailing Tripp Lite’s longtime leader: “Congratulations Barre!”

A small, balding man with a white goatee and a ruddy complexion took the microphone. Barre Seid was known as someone who preferred to keep a low profile, but on the 56th anniversary of his leadership of Tripp Lite, he couldn’t resist the chance to address his employees. Later, as he bit into a cupcake, Seid posed for a company photographer, who later uploaded the photo to the company’s Facebook page.

Even this semipublic glimpse of Seid was rare.

For several decades, a select group of political activists, academics and fundraisers was ushered to Tripp Lite headquarters to pitch Seid at his office. Despite his status as one of the country’s most prolific funders of conservative causes, and despite his decades as the president and sole owner of one of the country’s most successful electronics makers, Seid has spent most of his 90 years painstakingly guarding his privacy.

There are no art galleries, opera companies, or theaters or university buildings emblazoned with his name in his hometown of Chicago. There’s even some confusion over how to pronounce his last name. (People who’ve dealt with him say it’s “side.”)

The Lever and ProPublica pieced together the details of his life and his motivations for his extensive donations through interviews, court records and other documents obtained through public-records requests.

One of the only photos of Seid that The Lever and ProPublica could find shows him as a 14-year-old walking in a small group across a college campus. Born in 1932 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Seid grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the oldest of two brothers, according to Census records. A precocious child, he was chosen for a special bachelor’s degree program at the University of Chicago, not far from his childhood home.

Seid attended the University of Chicago in the early years of the “Chicago school,” a group of professors and researchers who would reimagine the field of economics, assailing massive government interventions in the economy and emphasizing the importance of human liberty and free markets. After college, Seid served two years in the Army and eventually returned home to Chicago, according to testimony given decades later in a court case. He took a job as an assistant to an investor and businessman named Graham Trippe, whose company made headlights and would produce the rotating warning lights used by police cars, tow trucks and other emergency response vehicles.

By the mid-1960s, Seid had taken over as Trippe Manufacturing’s president. In the decades to come, the company, now called Tripp Lite, became a pick-and-shovel business of the digital gold rush. The company sells the power strips that supply electricity to computers and the server racks, cooling equipment and network switches that make data centers run. Business surged with the shift to cloud computing and the proliferation of vast data centers.

That boom vaulted him from the ranks of merely rich to the superrich. Seid was making around $30 million per year by the mid-1990s, tax records obtained by ProPublica show. His annual income, the vast majority of which came from Tripp Lite’s profits, took off in the mid-2000s and steadily rose, hitting around $157 million in 2018. Tripp Lite, which was 100% owned by Seid, contributed $136 million to his total income that year.

Even as Seid built a billion-plus dollar business, he drew scant public attention; Forbes never put him on its list of the wealthiest Americans, and business and political press rarely mentioned him.

Yet he was becoming a major donor. He gave at least $775 million in charitable donations between 1996 and 2018, a period in which he reported $1.7 billion in income, according to his tax records. Seid parceled out a small portion of those donations to Chicago-area universities, religious organizations, medical research and dozens of civic-focused groups.

While Seid has never spoken to the press about his ideology, evidence of his worldview has emerged here and there. His family foundation has supported the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, named after two of the Chicago school’s intellectual leaders, Gary Becker and Milton Friedman. He has also donated to the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has a history of using inflammatory rhetoric and misleading tactics to undermine climate science.

Seid appeared to be the donor (listed as “Barry Seid”) who gave $17 million to fund the distribution during the 2008 presidential campaign of millions of copies of a DVD of the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War With the West.” The DVDs, which were sent specifically to households in presidential election battleground states, were criticized as virulently anti-Muslim.

Seid’s personality can be glimpsed in exchanges with George Mason University officials from the late 2000s to mid-2010s that came out in response to a public-records request by the activist group UnKoch My Campus. In the emails, Seid comes across as an intellectually probing figure, asking the dean of the law school to respond to news stories about the value of a law-school degree or the workings of higher education’s accreditation system. Seid drily addressed several administrators for the university, whose law school and economics department are known for their alignment with conservative, free-market principles, as “Fellow Members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.”

Seid appears to have continually sought new vehicles for dispensing his money and maintaining as much anonymity as possible. The GMU emails also show a redacted donor — who activists believed to be Seid based on other unredacted materials — routing donations to the school through DonorsTrust or the Donors Capital Fund, two donor-advised funds that provide an additional level of anonymity.

While the roots of Seid and Leo’s professional relationship aren’t clear, the two worked together at a small foundation Seid formed in 2009 called the Chicago Freedom Trust, a charity that gave out small grants to nonpolitical groups. Leo later joined the foundation’s board.

The GMU emails provide an inkling of the relationship between the two men. In early 2016, Seid emailed the dean of GMU’s law school and the head of a prominent American Jewish organization to urge them to work together. The dean, Henry Butler, forwarded Seid’s message to Leo seeking to better understand Seid’s intentions.

“Do you have any insight?” Butler wrote.

“I do not, but will find out,” Leo replied.

The Money

Billionaires tend to craft intricate estate plans to pass the family business to the next generation, fortified from taxation and protective of their vision. The apparently childless Seid didn’t have that option, but starting in April 2020, he set in motion a plan to make sure his fortune would go toward his favored causes.

That month, the Marble Freedom Trust was created, and Seid subsequently transferred his 100% ownership stake in Tripp Lite to the trust, according to the documents reviewed by The Lever and ProPublica.

In February 2021, Tripp Lite filed its annual reports with the state of Illinois as it had done for decades. But this time, Seid’s typewritten name had been crossed out as an officer of the company. Added as an officer, written in by hand, was Leonard Leo.

A Tripp Lite subsidiary in Nova Scotia, Canada, similarly removed Seid as a director and added Leo as a director in March 2021, according to disclosure filings.

Then, later that same month, Eaton Corporation, a large publicly traded company, acquired Tripp Lite for $1.65 billion.

The transactions appear to have been carefully sequenced to reap massive tax savings. Selling a company that has grown in value after decades of ownership is treated the same way for tax purposes as a person selling a share of stock. If the property has grown in value, capital gains taxes are due when it is sold.

But Seid transferred Tripp Lite to the Marble Freedom Trust, a nonprofit that is exempt from income tax, before the electronics company was sold. As a result, lawyers say, Seid avoided up to $400 million in state and federal income tax, preserving those funds for Leo’s operation.

“If the person who had owned the stock had sold the stock himself, he would’ve been taxed on the appreciation in the stock,” said Ellen Aprill, a tax law professor at Loyola Marymount University. “Whereas if you give it to the 501(c)(4), there’s no charitable deduction for giving the money, but you avoid the tax on all of that appreciation.”

Political advocacy nonprofits like the Marble Freedom Trust are formally called 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, after the section of the tax code. Informally, they are known as dark-money groups because donors can remain secret, in contrast to the public disclosures required of gifts to political campaigns or super PACs. While they can spend money directly advocating for or against candidates in political campaigns, such spending cannot be their primary purpose.

In giving to such a dark money group, Seid also avoided another federal levy, the gift tax, thanks to a change signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015.

There’s a reason why giving money specifically to a trust might have been attractive for an older and ideological donor such as Seid. The founding documents that lay out how the trust will spend money can be harder to change than the governing documents of a corporation, according to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a professor at Notre Dame Law School.

Mayer added that while corporations usually have at least three directors, trusts can have just a single trustee in charge of the organization’s activities.

Leo is the trustee and chairman of the Marble Freedom Trust. In other words, Leo is now in charge of the massive sum of money.

The Rainmaker

For decades, Leo had served as a top executive at the Federalist Society, helping lead the influential Washington-based conservative lawyers group that serves as a launching pad for careers on the right.

But in early 2020, Leo made an announcement that suggested he was taking his successful model for reshaping the courts to remake American politics at every level: local, state and federal. In an interview with Axios, Leo said he was stepping away from his day-to-day role with the Federalist Society to take a more active role steering a network of conservative dark money groups.

The plan was to expand the network’s scope to “funnel tens of millions of dollars into conservative fights around the country,” according to Axios. What Leo did not mention in the interview was the imminent creation of the Marble Freedom Trust, his biggest-ever war chest.

Leo’s long career as both a legal activist and a prodigious fundraiser for conservative causes shows a steady march toward becoming a central figure in the Republican Party’s successful strategy to fill as many judicial vacancies as possible with young, conservative judges skeptical of the federal government’s power. He served as an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, helping the candidate take a step no other major presidential candidate had ever taken: releasing a list of names he would draw on to nominate to the Supreme Court.

Coming at a moment when conservatives were wary of Trump’s past leanings, the move bolstered his support among social conservatives. Leo stayed on as a judicial adviser during Trump’s four years in office. During that time, Leo helped the president appoint and confirm more than 200 nominees to the federal bench, most famously Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Leo’s efforts to reshape the country’s judicial system began long before Trump’s political ascent. In 1991, he joined the Federalist Society, which was then in its early years and only beginning to build a pipeline for conservative jurists.

In the view of Leo and his allies, the U.S. legal system had drifted dangerously far from its roots, establishing privileged classes and doctrines that were not enumerated in the Constitution and would be unrecognizable to the Founders. Those same courts had also empowered a class of unelected bureaucrats dubbed the “administrative state” to impose needless regulations and to endow the federal government with too much power. Like his close friend Justice Antonin Scalia, Leo argued for an originalist view of the Constitution — namely, that the country’s founding document should be interpreted strictly based on how its 18th century authors understood its words at the time.

In 2005, Leo and his allies formed a dark money network to rally support for George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But if Leo wanted to turn back the tide of what he saw as unchecked judicial activism, he needed to build something bigger, more lasting.

Leo set out to create a network of interlocking groups that could each play a part in returning the country to what he saw as its roots, whether by training future generations of Scalias, funding scholarship that made the case for originalism or bankrolling efforts to install conservative judges on the bench.

Between 2005 and mid-2021, Leo and his associates raised at least $460 million (not including the Marble Freedom Trust’s funds).

According to tax records, Leo’s network has funneled those hundreds of millions into ad campaigns and right-leaning groups. The Judicial Crisis Network — which is now called the Concord Fund and is headed by a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and Leo associate named Carrie Severino — has spent tens of millions airing ads during Supreme Court confirmation fights.

The group’s fundraising took off in 2016, when it led a campaign to block Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s confirmation. That year, Leo’s network received a $28 million infusion from a single anonymous donor. Leo and his network long refused to say who is paying for their advocacy campaigns.

Leo’s network has worked closely with Senate Republicans and has showered them with cash as well, recently donating $9 million to a dark money group affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

While Leo is best known for his influence on the Supreme Court, he and his network have also worked to shift the balance of power throughout the judiciary — in federal district and appellate courts, and state supreme courts, too.

At the state level, the network funds groups supporting conservative gubernatorial and legislative candidates. Leo’s nonprofits and their subsidiaries have recently pushed states to tighten voting laws, opposed the teaching of critical race theory in schools and financed organizations pressing states to remove millions of Americans from the Medicaid rolls.Republicans Turn Against the League of Women Voters

But now, with Seid’s largesse, Leo has nearly four times the amount he raised over 16 years at his disposal and ambitions to match.

“I have a very simple rule, which is, I’m engaged in the battle of ideas, and I care very deeply about our Constitution and the role of courts in our society,” Leo told The Washington Post in 2019 when asked about his donors. “And I don’t waste my time on stories that involve money and politics because what I care about is ideas.”

Call for solidarity after FBI raids African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru movement

| Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the Uhuru movement via Facebook live July 29 | MR Online

Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the Uhuru movement via Facebook live July 29.

By Jeff Mackler (Posted Aug 09, 2022)

Originally published: Popular Resistance  on August 4, 2022 (more by Popular Resistance | 

Empire, Imperialism, Inequality, MovementsAmericas, United StatesNewswireAfrican People’s Socialist Party (APSP), Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Raid, Uhuru Movement

For More Information And To Contact And Support The African Peoples Socialist Party And Uhuru Solidarity Movement, Please Visit Their Website And Donate At APSPUhuru.org.

The specter of a Biden administration-authorized Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated McCarthy-era witch hunt was posed in bold relief last week as FBI agents took aim at a Black liberation organization that has been a sharp critic of the U.S./NATO-backed war in Ukraine and a defender of poor nations threatened with U.S. sanctions, coups, embargoes and blockades. These include Cuba, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Iran.

Replete with flash/bang grenades deployed at 5:00 am on Friday, July 29 to startle African Peoples Socialist Party (APSP) leader Omali Yeshitela and his wife at their home in St. Louis, Missouri, FBI agents, carrying federal search warrants, ordered them to come out with their hands up. They were handcuffed and ordered to sit on the curb. The armed agents, accompanied by local police, proceeded to ransack their home, confiscating their files, computer equipment and cell phones.

The FBI raid is connected to a federal indictment of a Russian man, Aleksandr Ionov, who the U.S. government alleges orchestrated a “political influence campaign” targeting local U.S. elections with the direct assistance of the APSP and its associated group, the Uhuru Movement. FBI and local police also raided the Uhuru Solidarity Center in St. Louis and APSP headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Ionov, a Russian national, is a leader of the Anti-Globalization Movement in Russia that the DOJ alleges worked on behalf of the Russian Federal Security Service to use U.S. political groups “to spread pro-Russia propaganda and interfere with local elections.”

APSP founder and chair Yeshitela and Uhuru Movement representatives denied being part of any Russian conspiracy campaign or receiving money from the Russian government.

African Peoples Socialist Party press conference

See the complete APSP press conference on the day of the FBI raid here:


The U.S. Department of Justice indictment charges  Ionov with working with at least three other Russian officials in a “malign influence campaign” against the U.S. over the past seven years. Ionov and his collaborators, according to the DOJ, used various U.S. groups to advance Russian government goals in several states.

“Through these influence operations,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg during a Florida press conference on the day of the raids, “Russia attempts to shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations in a number of ways.” He added, “Their goal is to further the interests of Russia.” The federal indictment asserts that the Russian “conspiracy” started in 2015 when APSP representatives attended a 2015 Moscow “anti-globalization” conference that included a range of U.S. and international antiwar organizations. The conference was billed and organized as an independent  antiwar gathering. In addition to the APSP several U.S. antiwar groups attended, including representatives from the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), which includes some 150 associated groups. A number of the conference participants participated in a separate peaceful protest at the U.S. embassy in Moscow decrying the 2014 U.S.-backed fascist-led coup that overthrew the elected government of Ukraine.

False charges: “Unindicted co-conspirators”

Yeshitela and the other July 29 FBI raid victims were not arrested. The DOJ press release characterized them as “unindicted co-conspirators,” presumably facing future court action and persecution as the DOJ continues its “investigations” and evaluates the contents of the sequestered files, computers and cell phones. One of the three “co-conspirators” was a 2017 APSP candidate for the St. Petersburg City Council, Akilé Anai, the party’s director of agitation and propaganda. Anai ran again in 2019 focusing on APSP’s traditional demands for reparations for U.S. slavery and in opposition to U.S. colonial and imperialist policies around the world.

The presumption of innocence

An italicized footnote to the DOJ press release states, “An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”

This constitutional presumption of innocence notwithstanding, the FBI agents had no qualms about employing terror tactics against a longstanding Black liberation group.

According to FBI Special Agent David Walker, the three Florida search warrants were aimed at “collecting evidence for their indictment.” Walker added: “The facts and circumstances surrounding this indictment are some of the most blatant violations we’ve seen by the Russian government in order to destabilize and undermine trust in American democracy.” That the APSP participated in a local election campaign–where they received some 18 percent of the vote–and advocated freedom and reparations for oppressed people in the U.S. and worldwide, in the twisted logic of the FBI and DOJ, constitutes, a threat to the “stability” of the U.S. and “undermines trust in American democracy.”

Challenging U.S./NATO Ukraine war is a crime

Walker unwittingly reveals today’s near-unanimous mindset of the U.S. government, which today exercises a virtual media blockade of all views that criticize the Biden administration’s war policies. The message is unmistakable: Challenging U.S. imperialist policy on Ukraine, or for that matter, anywhere in the world, can subject antiwar opponents to persecution, if not imprisonment! Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in a related statement was explicit: “The Department of Justice will not allow Russia to unlawfully sow division and spread misinformation inside the United States.”

Return to McCarthy era persecution

Declaring the APSP as essentially an agent of a foreign power because of its political ideas, not to mention running for political office and campaigning for their ideas, smacks of the reactionary methods employed against socialists and communists during the 1950s and 60s McCarthy-era witch-hunt. During that decades long horror a compliant U.S. Supreme approved the infamous Felix Frankfurter doctrine that held that the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free association had to be “balanced” against the “national security interests” of the U.S. government. During that period these so-called national security interests, that is, the right of the capitalist class to persecute dissidents who opposed U.S. wars, racism and political repression, triumphed and the First Amendment was largely obliterated.

Thousands of individuals and scores of organizations accused of Communist Party or other socialist organization association were subject to being fired from their jobs if not outright imprisonment. Thousands were blacklisted; loyalty oaths were imposed as a condition of employment, especially in the public sector; Hollywood was purged of dissenting writers, directors and actors. Bending to reactionary legislation regarding Communist Party union leaders holding office, union bureaucrats purged their ranks. Dissident unions were expelled from the AFL-CIO. Fear prevailed. An intimidated ACLU refused to defend Communists in the courts, a decision that today’s ACLU leaders regard as its gravest mistake.

The threat of government persecution, humiliation, and isolation caused much of the radical and socialist movements to retreat to a near underground existence.

Preclude to the witchhunt

The government’s earlier witch-hunt persecution of the Socialist Workers Party in 1941 under the provisions of the anti-communist Smith Act saw 18 central leaders of that Trotskyist party imprisoned for almost two years for their Marxist ideas alone! No illegal acts were required! The SWP had been central to the leadership of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes that opened the door to the mass labor upsurge that gave rise to the formation of the CIO.

Are you now or have you even been a Communist?

The government’s official witch-hunt institutions, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Senate Internal Security Committee, paraded the country, holding well-publicized “investigative” hearings. Subpoenaed witnesses were virtually forced to answer the Grand Inquisitors’ repeated question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party or any other organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government?” When the subpoenaed victim declined to answer, citing the First Amendment right to freedom of association, the interrogator persisted and threatened the accused and pilloried “witness” with punishment.

“You are in contempt of congress, Sir!” The interrogators were vindicated soon after with the notorious Supreme Court Frankfurter decision cited above. A First Amendment refusal to answer and admit Communist Party membership, as well as refusing to name other party members, guaranteed a prison sentence. Thereafter, and for more than a decade, beleaguered HUAC subpoena victims who courageously refused to “name names” of their friends and associates, were compelled to cite the Fifth Amendment’s provision again self-incrimination, that is, “I refuse to answer on the grounds of my right against self-incrimination,” a virtual admission of party membership that employers and others often used against them. But at least it kept most HUAC subpoena victims out of jail.

America’s experiment with fascist repression

The McCarthy era was America’s initial experiment with fascist repression, brought on by the post-WWII unprecedented strike wave that brought million’s of angry union workers into the streets, closing down major portions of U.S. industry and winning major victories. For a few years the U.S. ruling class feared that a radicalized U.S. labor movement, with revolutionary forces often in the leadership, would be capable of winning the kind of major social changes that were won by fighting European workers who had lived under fascist occupation and threatened to challenge capitalist rule itself. The leadership of these European struggles was largely Communist Party militants, who had won great respect during the war based on their central role in the underground Resistance and due to the Soviet Union’s decisive role in the military defeat of Hitler, at a cost of 27 million Russian dead.

Post-WWII background to the McCarthy era

The Communist Parties in France and Italy emerged at the end of the war as the largest in the nation, at a time when most of the major capitalist parties were tainted by their wartime collaboration with the Nazis occupiers. Tragically, however, the CPs’ subservience to Stalin’s “peaceful coexistence” policies led them to participate in “coalition capitalist governments” that subordinated class struggle to preserving capitalist wealth and rule. In the U.S. Stalinist-oriented trade union leaders, who had achieved major influence or control of one-third of the militant CIO unions, followed suit and aimed at cooling the mass labor upsurge with their unpopular proposal to “continue the wartime No Strike Pledge into the distant future.” This single act of betrayal allowed the posturing anti-communist labor bureaucracy to effectively isolate the CP and foster the government’s witch-hunt of the union movement.

New worldwide relationship of forces

But the initially frightened U.S. ruling class soon came to understand that a new relationship of forces had dramatically emerged in the post-WWII world. While U.S. industry was virtually untouched and qualitatively expanded during the war, all of Europe stood in ruins and in unprecedented debt to the U.S. and its banking institutions. With near-zero competition U.S. capitalism had a virtual monopoly in the world market place. U.S. wartime allies in Europe, including Russia, stood in ruin as did U.S. enemies, Germany and Japan. In this context, U.S. corporations were able to grant some important concessions to worker militancy. They had no need to turn to fascist repression to enforce their rule. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy himself was called to task before congress in hearings presided over by top U.S. military leaders–the famous “Army-McCarthy hearings.” The now discredited demagogue McCarthy proved incapable of presenting his alleged lists of “thousands of Communists” that he had repeatedly asserted were employed by the U.S. government itself. He was finished! But the U.S. elite saw no need to erase the reactionary anti-Communist legislation and court rulings that had been put in place during that period.

Civil rights and Vietnam War mass protest turn back witch-hunt

It was only the mass radicalization attendant to the 1960s and 1970s mass civil rights and Vietnam War antiwar movements that obliterated or made moot much of the reactionary McCarthy-era legislation. That is, freedom of speech and association and the right to protest were won in struggles that engaged millions and never by the largess of the capitalist parties or their “liberal/progressive” politicians.

U.S.-imposed media ban on criticizing Ukraine war policy

Today’s witch hunters, armed with a corporate media monopoly that exceeds any other in modern history, operate under the premise that an Orwellian-like media blackout can be largely imposed to eliminate virtually all dissent. If cracks appear in their imposed wall of silence, a bit of repression is always in order, aided by an unprecedented surveillance system, as Edward Snowden so dramatically revealed.

Tightening the government’s screws of repression often begins with concerted attacks on small groups of dissidents as with the recent blatant attack on the APSP. If left unchallenged, however, the cancer of criminalizing political dissent can only metastasize. At a time when U.S. capitalism has proved incapable of addressing one after another of its major crises–systemic racist oppression and police violence, endless war, a growing debilitating inflation, global warming/climate catastrophe, a raging pandemic that has taken the lives of more than a million people, deepening attacks on women and LGBTQI people and a generalized assault on steady work at a living wage–a ruling class resort to McCarthy-era persecution when faced with mass forces in the streets aimed at fundamental change, cannot be ruled out. Indeed, it is to be expected.

Trump’s initial fascist foray

Donald Trump’s moves to steal the 2020 elections, or turn to fascist-like groups or to the military to bolster his presidency when 25 million took to the streets during the Black Lives Matter mobilizations, was a harbinger of things to come. He was rebuffed for the moment by the majority sectors of the U.S. elite who insured that the military, the FBI, CIA and police, as well as Congress itself, would not back his moves toward a virtual coup on January 6 or earlier.

Fascist-like currents on the rise

For the time being, in the absence of broadly-organized and consciously-led mass forces on the scene aimed at challenging capitalist rule in its fundamentals and posing socialist solutions that align with the aspirations of the vast majority, the ruling rich are content with the electoral arena to try to resolve their crises and differences. To date, however, in a world saturated with unprecedented inter-imperialist rivalries for markets and resources, ever declining average rates of profit, and ever-deepening and multiple crises with no solutions in sight, no sector of U.S. capital has ruled out playing the fascist card when it is deemed necessary to quell mass content that threatens to breach the boundaries of the tightly-controlled billionaire dominated electoral process.  That fascist-like currents are on the rise the world over is no accident. They reflect the deepening crises of the capitalist system itself, including its endless wars, offshoring U.S. industrial jobs–28 percent of all jobs since 1990–to low wage countries around the world and the deepening immiseration of billions around the world. Mass repression or threats to that effect have become the new norm from India to Brazil to Hungary and Poland to Italy and in the U.S. with Trump.

Cuba anti-embargo activists threatened with repression

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio last week urged the FBI to open an “immediate” investigation into a U.S. anti-embargo group whose members recently met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Rubio charged in effect, as with the FBI agents who raided the APSP, that opponents of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, in this case the Bridges of Love coalition, were acting as “unregistered foreign agents of the Cuban government.” He insisted that they be investigated under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It is no coincidence that his Florida press conference followed shortly after the FBI’s public attack on the AFSP, also headquartered in Florida.

Defending against government repression

A united front effort to defend against all government attacks is a prerequisite to turning back today’s witch hunters.

The United National Antiwar Coalition has initiated an important online petition to solicit solidarity with the APSP and the Uhuru Movement. The petition defends their right to freely associate with people around the world, to hold any political beliefs it may choose, and to express them without fear of intimidation, persecution, or prosecution.

FBI stages COINTELPRO-like raid on Black socialist group, alleges Russian government connection

August 4, 2022 10:30 AM CDT  BY PEOPLES DISPATCH

FBI stages COINTELPRO-like raid on Black socialist group, alleges Russian government connection

U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg, alongside St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, left, and FBI Special Agent David Walker, speaks to reporters at St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters, July 29, 2022. Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Russian operative allegedly under the supervision of one of Russia’s main intelligence services has been charged with recruiting political groups in the United States to advance pro-Russia propaganda, including during the invasion of Ukraine, the Justice Department said. In this case, the authorities say, Ionov from 2014 through last March recruited political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California and directed them to spread pro-Russia talking points. Among the political groups raided in connection with the charges is the African People’s Socialist Party. | Martha Asencio-Rhine / Tampa Bay Times via AP

On July 29 at 5 a.m., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a violent raid on the home of Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the U.S.-based African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), in St. Louis, Mo.

In a video posted the next day, Yeshitela claims the FBI deployed flashbang grenades, carried automatic weapons, damaged the property of his neighbors, including smashing windows, and handcuffed himself and his wife. Yeshitela also claims that the FBI refused to show him a search warrant and that they took his cell phones and all other devices from his home.

It was only later that Yeshitela learned that the raid on his home was one of several carried out across the country against locations affiliated with the APSP. That same day, the FBI raided the Uhuru Solidarity Center, also in St. Louis, and the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, Fla., both locations of the Uhuru Movement, led by the APSP. According to Yeshitela, the FBI also raided the APSP’s radio station, Black Power 96.3 FM, and reportedly detained a prominent APSP leader.

The raids came as a result of a Justice Department indictment of a Russian man, Aleksandr Ionov, whom the U.S. government alleges funded and supported Black organizations as part of a “foreign malign influence campaign against the U.S.” The indictment never specifically names any organization but refers to a “U.S. Political Group 1,” in St. Petersburg, which allegedly partnered with Ionov.

A photo from an African Liberation Day event hosted by the African People’s Socialist Party in 2019. | African People’s Socialist Party USA via Facebook

“Ain’t no Russian been responsible for what we face every day in our lives,” Yeshitela stated in response to the indictment. “[The government] is going to say that the Russians somehow had to tell us that we are being oppressed…[the government] telling the world that Black people don’t have enough sense to be able to lead our own struggle, but that’s not true.”

In response to the raid, Ajamu Baraka, leader of the Black Alliance for Peace, tweeted, “As predicted, Black radicals are targeted again for not falling in line with U.S. imperial agenda on Ukraine.” The APSP has been critical of U.S. involvement in the Russia–Ukraine war. Attorney and organizer Kamau Franklin stated, “This is a COINTELPRO operation. One meant to destroy Black organizations.”

COINTELPRO was an FBI program that existed from 1956 to 1971, which, in its own words, existed to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” revolutionary organizations. The FBI and local police conducted raids on offices of organizations such as the Black Panther Party (BPP). In a particularly harsh illegal raid in Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo threatened, “If they break our law, we’ll be there. The police, we’ll be there, and we’ll see who wins.”

U.S. law enforcement also conducted raids on individuals, such as Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Chicago BPP, who was assassinated by Chicago police during one such raid. In his video, Yeshitela notes that the raid on his house was conducted one hour after Hampton’s assassination, which occurred at 4 a.m., Dec. 4, 1969.

COINTELPRO is a central reason that many U.S. political prisoners who were former Black revolutionaries in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are in prison today. Examples include Mutulu Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

75% of Dems don’t want Biden to run for re-election

New CNN poll shows 75% of Dems don’t want Biden to run for re-election: ‘Promised the moon,’ now ‘frustrated’

The CNN poll is the latest sign of Biden’s dwindling support within his own party

During the Wednesday episode of CNN New Day, anchor John King gave the reasons he thinks are responsible for the latest CNN poll showing President Biden’s approval among his own party at rock-bottom levels.

Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday morning, anchor John King gave the reasons he thinks are responsible for the latest CNN poll showing President Biden’s approval among his own party at rock-bottom levels.

Reacting to the new survey showing that a whopping 75% of Democrats want someone other than Joe Biden to run for president in 2024, King told “New Day” hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar that Democratic voters are “frustrated.”

They were “promised the moon,” he claimed, adding that Biden voters “didn’t get most of that.”

President Biden has expressed his intention to run for re-election, though more and more Democrat-friendly media outlets have been railing against the idea. A New York Times column from Tuesday claimed that the best thing Biden could do to help his party would be to announce his decision not to run for re-election because his presidency is “failing.”

According to the latest CNN poll, 75% of Democrat voters want someone other than Biden to run for re-election in 2024.

According to the latest CNN poll, 75% of Democrat voters want someone other than Biden to run for re-election in 2024.

The latest CNN poll indicates a tough uphill battle for Biden to regain standing among Democratic voters.

Berman and Keilar brought on King to explain the significance of the newly released poll. Keilar prompted him: “John, I want to ask you about the CNN poll because it shows 75% of Democratic voters actually want someone other than Joe Biden in 2024. Can he win with numbers like that?”

King prefaced his take on the poll result with his claim that the midterm election results would probably give a better account of Biden’s actual standing among Democratic voters than the CNN poll. “Well, again, we’re having this conversation three months before the 2022 midterms. What happens in those midterms will say a lot more, Brianna, than any poll today about Joe Biden’s standing in the country and Joe Biden’s standing within his own Democratic Party,” he said.

Still, King explained the current factors most likely contributing to Democrats’ pessimistic view of the man they elected. “What have we all been through for going on three years now? A COVID pandemic that hits you in the head like a two-by-four. Every time you think it’s about to fade, it hits you again,” he said.                                          

CNN anchor John King explains the latest CNN poll to "New Day" hosts.

CNN anchor John King explains the latest CNN poll to “New Day” hosts.

King then mentioned the dismal economic setting. “We’re waiting for a Fed meeting today. They’re going to raise interest rates again, hopefully to help tame inflation, but what does that mean? It increases the cost if you’re trying to buy a house. It increases the cost of your credit cards.”

He then summed up voter sentiment: “The American people, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, a cranky independent, you’re exhausted. You’re frustrated.” Speaking to Democratic Party voters’ feelings specifically, King asserted, “You were promised the moon after the Democrats won those two Georgia Senate seats, you were promised sweeping legislation on climate, sweeping legislation on childcare, sweeping legislation on just about everything under the Democratic umbrella. You didn’t get most of that, didn’t you?”

“So you’re frustrated,” he continued. “You have your normal frustrations that all Americans have, then you have your partisan frustrations because Democrats thought with all-Democratic government they would get so much. Democrats clearly overpromised.”

King explained that Democrats are naturally taking their frustrations out on “the guy in charge,” adding, “That’s called human nature.”

CNN anchor John King claimed that Democrats have "overpromised" what they would deliver to their voters, who are now "frustrated."

CNN anchor John King claimed that Democrats have “overpromised” what they would deliver to their voters, who are now “frustrated.”