Anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom had more than 100 allies in influential government positions in 2018

Anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom had more than 100 allies in influential government positions in 2018

ADF allies had positions of influence in Congress, federal agencies, state and federal courts, city and state governments, and local school boards — and we only know a fraction of its network

Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

This is the second part of a two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government. Read the first part here and click here for Media Matters’ database of more than 100 ADF allied attorneys, Blackstone Legal Fellows, and current and former staff who held a government position in 2018.

In 2018, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) had allies in more than 100 positions throughout local, state, and federal government, according to a Media Matters analysis of a fraction of its network of thousands of lawyers.

ADF allies in government have positions in multiple federal agencies, the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, school boards, city councils, and even federal courts. For years, ADF said it would work to “reclaim our nation’s judicial system” and advance its right-wing, anti-LGBTQ legal agenda through its staff and allies, including a vast allied attorney network, its Blackstone Legal Fellowship, and other training programs for conservative Christians interested or working in the legal profession.

ADF has a troubling lack of transparency about its network of attorneys, which is particularly concerning given that so many of its allies hold influential positions in the government. To shed some light on ADF’s government influence, Media Matters has identified over 100 former ADF employees, allied attorneys, or participants in its Blackstone Legal Fellowship who held government positions in 2018. They likely represent only a fraction of the total number, as ADF claims to have thousands of allies in its networks whose associations with the group are difficult or impossible to track down.

Media Matters determined each individual’s ADF affiliation based on news reporting, ADF’s website and press releases, archived ADF newsletters, self-reporting on LinkedIn or in professional bios, university materials and pamphlets, and other publicly available sources. This research also benefited from the Rewire.News database of over 100 ADF Blackstone Legal Fellowship alumni. Media Matters has previously identified over 50 ADF alumni who served as government officials in 2017, and in February, we reported nearly 300 allied attorneys that ADF identified in dozens of press releases and other posts on its website.

ADF has allies working in state or local government positions in more than 25 different states and across the federal government, including the judiciary. Below is a selection of notable ADF allies from our database who hold several types of positions in government.

ADF allies in federal agencies

The Trump-Pence administration has enacted many of its worst anti-LGBTQ policies through federal agencies. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services has implemented policies making it easier for health care workers to refuse care to LGBTQ people based on religious beliefs; the Department of Defense has barred transgender service members from serving; and the Department of Education has rolled back guidance protecting transgender students, just to name a few. All of these departments employ ADF allies who may be able to affect and interpret LGBTQ-related policy changes.

Several ADF allies have notable positions in federal agencies:

  • Kerri Kupec, former ADF legal counsel and director of communications, serves as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she has defended the Trump-Pence administration’s policy of prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military. While at ADF, Kupec praised the current administration for rescinding the Obama administration’s guidance for trans-inclusive school facilities. Kupec held several positions in the DOJ Office of Public Affairs before becoming its director. She also served as a White House spokesperson helping with confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. During that time, the White House briefed ADF President Michael Farris with private information about the FBI investigation into reports that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted professor Christine Blasey Ford while they were in high school.

  • Former ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman currently works as deputy general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services, which has notably been employing prominent right-wing religious activists under the Trump-Pence administration. The department started a conscience and religious freedom division and recently finalized a “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” rule, both of which make it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others. In fact, Bowman reportedly helped craft HHS regulations rolling back the Obama administration’s mandate requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act. While at ADF, Bowman represented the anti-abortion group March for Life in a 2014 lawsuit against the Obama-era mandate. Also during that time, Bowman wrote an op-ed arguing that the Obama administration’s LGBTQ-inclusive HHS regulations posed an “urgent threat against the rights of many Christian and pro-life institutions and individuals regarding their beliefs about the sanctity of human life and sexuality.”

ADF allies in federal and state courts

The Trump-Pence administration has nominated at least seven ADF allies for federal judgeships, and several federal courts include ADF allies as law clerks. ADF-affiliated judges are part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to “reshape the American judicial system” by filling the courts with conservative judges.

Five federal judicial nominees with ties to ADF have been confirmed under the Trump-Pence administration:

  • Allison Jones Rushing was confirmed to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in March 2019 even after LGBTQ and civil rights groups highlighted her previous internship with ADF. In her Senate Judiciary Committee nomination questionnaire, Rushing also noted her participation in speaking engagements for ADF as recently as 2017.

  • Allied attorney Kyle Duncan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Prior to his judicial appointment, Duncan was involved in several LGBTQ-related cases, including “defending Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage” and representing a Virginia school board in its case against a transgender high school student who wanted access to facilities that aligned with his gender identity.

  • Former Blackstone fellow Joseph Toth serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. His presence could impact LGBTQ veterans -- particularly transgender veterans who already face difficulty accessing necessary medical benefits -- now that the Trump-Pence administration has recently implemented its ban on transgender service members.

  • Allied attorney Michael Joseph Juneau serves on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana after being confirmed in 2018.

  • Jeremy Kernodle serves as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas after he was confirmed in 2018. Kernodle identified himself as an ADF allied attorney during the confirmation process but later asserted that he was not aware of his listing as an allied attorney until he began preparing for his nomination.

The 2017 federal judicial nomination of ADF allied attorney Jeff Mateer was withdrawn after some of his extreme anti-LGBTQ comments were uncovered. He remains the first assistant attorney general in Texas. ADF allied attorney and former ADF senior counsel Thomas Marcelle is still awaiting Senate confirmation after his January re-nomination.

Outside of federal courts, there are also at least two state Supreme Court justices with ADF connections:

  • Nels Peterson completed the Blackstone Legal Fellowship in 2002 and now serves as a Georgia Supreme Court justice after being appointed in 2017.

  • Blackstone Legal Fellow Brian Hagedorn was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April after previously serving on the state’s Court of Appeals. Hagedorn has an extensive history of anti-LGBTQ positions, such as arguing that “the idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable. There is no right in our Constitution to have sex with whoever or whatever you want in the privacy of your own home (or barn).”

ADF allies are representatives in Congress and state legislatures

According to Freedom for All Americans, more than 150 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2018. ADF has played a direct role in shaping anti-LGBTQ legislation at the state level, including creating and distributing anti-LGBTQ model policies such as its “Student Physical Privacy Policy.” In 2017, legislatures in at least eight states introduced policies resembling that model. ADF also helped write, promote, and justify a discriminatory law in Mississippi that gives religious organizations, businesses, and individuals broad license to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

There were at least seven ADF-affiliated lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures in 2018:

  • In Congress, allied attorney and former ADF lawyer Mike Johnson represents the 4th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson was previously a state representative and sponsored a religious exemptions bill that would have made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

  • Arizona's J.D. Mesnard is concurrently working as both a state senator and a regional director for ADF’s Church Alliance. As part of the Church Alliance, Mesnard has to agree to ADF’s statement of faith which includes rejecting transgender people, same-sex relations, and sex outside of marriage. Prior to becoming a state senator in 2019, Mesnard served as a state representative for eight years, including two years as speaker of the House. While speaker, Mesnard released a workplace harassment policy for the state House that did not include protections for LGBTQ representatives.

  • Former senior counsel and allied attorney Steve O’Ban serves as a Washington state senator, a position he has held since 2013. ADF’s website noted that his time on staff there overlapped for several years with his time as a legislator. As a state senator, O’Ban voted against a bill protecting LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. In 2016, while both serving as a state senator and working for ADF, O’Ban sued the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of a school district that did not want to implement trans-inclusive facilities. He also argued in favor of suspending the Iowa Civil Rights Act for including protections based on gender identity.

  • ADF allied attorney Matt Shea has served as Washington state representative for over a decade, and he touts his ties to ADF in both his campaign and government biographies. Shea is also a co-founder of the Washington Family Foundation, which is an anti-LGBTQ organization that later merged with the Family Policy Institute of Washington. The group is affiliated with the Family Policy Alliance and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council. During his 2018 reelection campaign, Shea acknowledged that “he had distributed a four-page manifesto titled ‘Biblical Basis for War,’” which included violent language about people who flout “biblical law,” stating, “If they do not yield - kill all males.” It also condemned abortion and same-sex marriage. As a state representative, Shea has voted against multiple bills promoting LGBTQ equality, and he sponsored several anti-LGBTQ bills, including one defining marriage as between a man and a woman and another that would limit access for transgender people to facilities consistent with their gender identity. His extreme views expand beyond anti-LGBTQ rhetoric; Shea also has a history of working with anti-Muslim and militia groups.

  • Former Illinois state Rep. Peter Breen, Louisiana state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, and former Missouri state Rep. Kevin Corlew are some of the other state lawmakers connected to ADF.

ADF allies are state attorneys general and solicitors general, and they are in state attorneys general offices

The mandate of a state attorney general varies by state, but they are generally considered the state’s top legal official and “advise and represent their legislature and state agencies and act as the ‘People’s Lawyer’ for the citizens.”

ADF has at least two allied attorneys serving as state attorneys general:

  • Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has been tied to ADF for more than two decades, attending its first training program in 1997 and ultimately providing ADF with more than 10,000 hours of pro bono service. Notably, Clarkson served as local counsel alongside ADF in an ongoing case in Alaska regarding a women’s homeless shelter that denied entry to a transgender woman. He withdrew from the case the day after being appointed to his current position. As attorney general, Clarkson has broad powers to advise the governor and represent the state in legal matters, “including the furnishing of written legal opinions to the governor, the legislature, and all state officers and departments,” which can include supporting and defending anti-LGBTQ bills. In a 2019 interview with Clarkson, ADF wrote that he "remains committed to ADF ideals" as attorney general.

  • Montana Attorney General Timothy Fox is also an ADF allied attorney. Fox worked alongside ADF as local counsel on behalf of a church that was accused of violating state election law after congregants signed petitions for an amendment to the state constitution limiting the definition of marriage between a man and woman. Fox has used his office to fight against LGBTQ rights such as same-sex marriage and trans-inclusive facilities.

Many states appoint solicitors general to oversee “the appellate operation in state attorney general offices.” State solicitors general can oversee the “preparation of legal opinions and appellate litigation,” determine whether the state should write or join amicus briefs, and even argue before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of their state, as ADF ally and Montana Solicitor General Dale Schowengerdt has done.

ADF affiliates served as solicitors general in Montana and Nevada in 2018:

In addition to these positions, ADF affiliates also staff attorneys general offices in states across the country, including Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, and Texas. In fact, there are four ADF affiliates in both the Arizona and Texas attorneys general offices:

  • ADF allies Evan Daniels, Joseph La Rue, Angelina Nguyen, and Esther Winne all work in Arizona’s attorney general office. The office has submitted briefs in support of ADF clients Jack Phillips, Breanna Koski, and Joanna Duka in cases working to overturn LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

  • ADF allies David Hacker, Heather Hacker, Jeff Mateer, and Austin Nimocks all worked in Texas’ attorney general office in 2018, though Nimocks has since left. Additionally, ADF Blackstone Fellow Ryan Bangert moved from the Missouri attorney general office to the Texas attorney general office in January 2019. The office has supported Texas’ anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” which would have required transgender people in the state “to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities” that do not align with their gender identity. It also joined 10 other states in suing the Obama administration over guidelines protecting trans students, and it filed legal briefs in support of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory position against trans-inclusive bathroom policies. The office also submitted an amicus brief in support of ADF’s client Phillips alongside Arizona and several other states.

Additional research by Brennan Suen and Rebecca Damante.

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