Charles Koch has activated his political network to support Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and to tip the scales on her nomination battle in the U.S. Senate. While much of the commentary about Judge Barrett’s nomination has focused on the real prospect that Roe v. Wade may be undermined or overturned, Mr. Koch has other concerns. Judge Barrett’s nomination is the latest battleground in his decades-long war to reshape American society in a way that ensures that corporations can operate with untrammeled freedom. It may be a pivotal one.
Since the early 1970s, Mr. Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle. In 1974, Mr. Koch gave a blistering speech to a libertarian think tank, called the Institute for Humane Studies, in which he outlined his vision of the American regulatory state, and the strategy he would employ over the ensuing decades to realize that vision. On the list of government interventions he condemned were “confiscatory taxation, wage and price controls, commodity allocations programs, trade barriers, restrictions on foreign investments, so-called equal opportunity requirements, safety and health regulations, land use controls, licensing laws, outright government ownership of businesses and industries.” As if that list were not exhaustive enough, he added “… and many more interventions.” In short, Charles Koch believes that an unregulated free market is the only sustainable structure for human society.
To achieve his goal, Mr. Koch has built an influence network with three arms: a phalanx of lobbyists; a constellation of think tanks and university programs; and Americans For Prosperity, a grass-roots army of political activists. And shaping the U.S. judiciary has been part of Mr. Koch’s strategy from the beginning. In that 1974 speech, he recommended strategy of “strategically planned litigation” to test the regulatory authority of government agencies. Such lawsuits could make their way to the Supreme Court, where justices could set precedent. In the 1990s, he focused on lower-level judges, funding a legal institute that paid for judges to attend junkets at a Utah ski resort and Florida beachfront properties; the judges attended seminars on the importance of market forces in society and were warned against consideration of “junk science” — like specific methods to measure the effects of pollution — that plaintiffs used to prove corporate malfeasance.
Mr. Koch also sought to influence the judiciary at the federal level. Between 1997 and 2017, the Koch brothers gave more than $6 million to the Federalist Society, a nonprofit institute that recruits libertarian and conservative judges for the federal judiciary, according to a tally by the activist group Greenpeace.
Mr. Koch’s efforts on the Supreme Court intensified after Donald Trump’s election, when a Republican-controlled Senate opened the way to install judges who could tip the court’s ideological balance. Americans for Prosperity undertook national campaigns to support President Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. A.F.P. said the Kavanaugh campaign alone — fliers, digital ads and staff for phone banking and door knocking — ran into “seven figures.” Now, Americans for Prosperity is doing the same for Judge Barrett. A.F.P. activists are pressuring U.S. senators in several states, with a particular eye toward vulnerable Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. The group is also working in Alaska, where Republican Lisa Murkowski has given mixed signals about whether she is willing to vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination before the next president is elected.