Federalist Society founder and conservative Supreme Court architect Leonard Leo has a big problem with free speech, it turns out, when that free speech is directed at him. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has the scoop on a civil lawsuit just filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine which alleges that Leo “urged police to violate the First Amendment rights of a demonstrator near his Maine home.”
Leo’s home is “a lavish $3.3-million waterfront estate in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on Mount Desert Island.” It’s a wealthy community that didn’t unanimously welcome Leo with open arms when he moved in back in 2018. In fact, he’s been the target of protests because of his activism in engineering the far right’s takeover of the Supreme Court. That was especially true last summer, following the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which ended federal abortion rights protections. It was after that decision, in the midst of one of these protests, that the alleged confrontation occurred.
“On July 31st, Anna Durand, a local inn owner, was on her way to one such protest with her son Eli Durand-McDonnell, a twenty-three-year-old landscaper,” Mayer writes. The two spotted Leo and his family walking, and both yelled out the car window at him. Durand-McDonnell remembers yelling something like, “You’re a fucking fascist” out the window as they drove by and continued on to the protest. That was where it got ridiculous.
Local cops showed up at the protest and arrested Durand-McDonnell on a public road near Leo’s home. “I asked, ‘What for?’” Durand-McDonnell told Mayer. “Honestly, I was so surprised. It was more that than rage or fear. I couldn’t imagine I’d done anything to get arrested.” What he’d done was yell at Leo, from a car driving past and then away from the man. The booking officer at the Hancock County Jail was shocked at the disorderly conduct charge. Durand-McDonnell remembers him asking, “That’s all you’re in for? Whatever happened to ‘sticks and stones’?” The local district attorney apparently agreed, dismissing the charges before the case went to trial because there were serious cases that needed to be dealt with.
Durand-McDonnell’s suit, filed Thursday, is against the arresting officers. It accuses them of conducting “a ‘retaliatory arrest to silence Durand-McDonnell’s free speech’ while acting ‘at the direct behest of Leo,’ whom the suit describes as ‘a powerful and wealthy conservative political activist who has used millions of dollars as political speech to influence American politics and courts.’” Leo isn’t a defendant, since he’s not an agent of the government and can’t unconstitutionally deny someone free speech. But he can use the levers of local government to do just that.
That is pretty ironic. In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, the Supreme Court decided that Colorado’s law protecting the civil rights of protected classes (like people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and disabled people) from discrimination violated the free speech of a business owner who wanted to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. That is, the free speech clause of the First Amendment bars local governments from enforcing nondiscrimination laws that bar discrimination in public accommodations for protected classes of people. Guess who engineered that case? One of the dark money groups in Leo’s vast network, the Alliance Defending Freedom.
In other words, Leo used local government to infringe on a protester’s freedom of speech after securing a Supreme Court decision saying local governments couldn’t do that—at least not when they’re trying to protect the rights of interracial couples, LGTBQ+ people, disabled people, or people of color. Leo apparently believes the only class that should be protected is right-wing billionaire assholes.
This is all too reminiscent of the last time cops were called on nonviolent, nonthreatening protesters in Maine. Remember Sen. Susan Collins making herself the victim in a chalk-writing incident? Someone wrote a very polite message on the sidewalk in front of her home, asking that she “please” represent her constituents and protect their abortion rights. Collins not only called the cops on them, she later pretended like it was an actual threat that deserved a police response. Then she had city workers clean it up. Apparently she doesn’t own a garden hose. Because, again, it was chalk.
Anyway, Collins is a very good friend of Leo’s. He even held a private fundraiser for her in 2019 at that multimillion-dollar mansion of his. Maybe he was the one who advised her to call the cops on the chalk artists. Or maybe she was the one who advised him to retaliate with law enforcement. Either way, they are birds of a feather.
It’s a ridiculous story—but also an incredibly serious one. Leo had no problem getting someone locked up simply for yelling at him. The protester could have been prosecuted if the district attorney didn’t have more important things to do. This is a stark demonstration of Leo’s attitude toward justice, and why he has worked so hard amassing so many billions in creating this dark money network: to protect rich, white conservatives.
If Republicans want an example of a two-tiered justice system, there it is.
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