by Kyle Herrig
John Eastman may not be a household name, but it should concern everyone that his name seems to carry weight in the highest court in the land.
A prominent lawyer in conservative legal circles, Eastman was a central figure in the attempts to overturn the 2020 election. He was a speaker at Donald Trump’s rally that immediately preceded the violent Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021. Among the many actions Eastman took to overturn and litigate the 2020 election, he reportedly presented a six-point plan to Trump and former Vice President Pence that was essentially a ‘How To’ guide for throwing out official electors and blocking certification of the election.
Eastman also pressured Pence to violate the Electoral Count Act to delay certification, an act which Eastman acknowledged violated federal law, though he described the illegal proposal as a “relatively minor violation.”
These are among the many reasons the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 attack deposed Eastman, where he – tellingly – invoked the Fifth Amendment over a hundred times and attempted to withhold thousands of emails subpoenaed by the committee.
Alarmingly, some of these emails were between Eastman and Ginni Thomas – the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, who Eastman clerked for.
This is why nonpartisan accountability groups have asked the California state bar and the Supreme Court bar to revoke his ability to practice law there. Eastman has already been pushed out of his roles at Chapman University and the University of Colorado.
And yet, despite being one of the men behind the curtain of the failed coup attempt, Eastman remains a respected figure within the conservative legal movement as contributor to the influential Federalist Society and a Founding Director for the Center of Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Claremont Institute, a prominent right-wing think tank.
The right-wing legal organizations Eastman belongs to are among a larger conservative legal network that plays a key role in fostering fringe right-wing legal theories and steering their adherents onto the highest courts of our judicial system. This is achieved by maintaining a pipeline of ultra-conservative legal figures that reward strict observance of their “originalist” legal doctrine as a prerequisite for advancement to the federal bench, a legal doctrine that Eastman has spent decades helping shape.
John Eastman: Friend of the Court, but No Friend to the American People
One avenue this network utilizes to enforce its ideological discipline and indirectly lobby the high court is filing amicus briefs. These briefs are meant to provide justices with the framework of a decision before they even hear the case and can often give the deceptive appearance of a groundswell of support in favor of a specific outcome.
While Eastman has been at the center of the investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election he has continued to submit amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Claremont Institute.
In the 2021 and upcoming 2022 Supreme Court terms, Eastman has filed amicus briefs in seven separate cases, including high profile cases from the 2021 term such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, and West Virginia v. EPA, which limited the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Eastman went on to file an amicus brief in April 2022 in the Sackett v. EPA case regarding the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act, which accused the EPA of a “power grab.” He also filed an amicus brief in May 2022 in the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College case regarding affirmative action, arguing that Harvard’s affirmative action policies discriminated against Asian-American applicants.
This past Supreme Court session was one of the most consequential in modern American history including catastrophic rollbacks on issues of abortion rights, gun violence prevention, and climate action. Mr. Eastman is helping lead the conservative legal movement towards its enormous ambitions for this upcoming term. The reality is that Eastman will likely find a friendly audience for his amicus briefs, after all, the court’s current majority is a product of the same right wing network that produced Eastman.
Any lawyer who participates in an attempted overthrow of a legitimate democratic election should not be licensed to practice law in front of the highest court in our country. However, the disbarment of Eastman alone is insufficient to address the current crisis facing our courts. We must also expose and hold accountable the shadowy influence of right-wing organizations that promote figures like Eastman and permeate the entirety of the American Judicial system today.