Bloomberg profiled PLF’s successes at the Supreme Court. Here’s what they got right and wrong.

October 04, 2023 | By STEVEN D. ANDERSON
Christina and Tawanda

Bloomberg just published a feature on Pacific Legal Foundation—quoting me—that has me split. On one hand, I love that Bloomberg is talking about “PLF’s mastery of the long game.” But the article got only half the story right. 

The article is a dual-profile of PLF and Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group. Both PLF and ADF have “scored big Supreme Court wins” and “are again poised to play key roles” in the upcoming Supreme Court term, Bloomberg reports. 

So far, so great. 

Noting that ADF has 15 Supreme Court wins, Bloomberg turns to PLF’s record: 

Founded in 1973, the Pacific Legal Foundation—a libertarian group that opposes big government—has won five cases since 2020 and boasts an overall record of 17 Supreme Court victories and two losses.  

True. We won three of those cases last term, giving PLF a better recent record at the Court than any public interest firm in the country, right or left. And “[a]ll the wins have translated into big donations,” as Bloomberg puts it: PLF funding has increased 70% since 2020, though there’s no doubt the increased investment is based on our entire body of work, not just Supreme Court wins. After all, we’re litigating more than 120 cases every year, helping pass good legislative policy, and delivering in-depth research and scholarship. 

Here’s where the Bloomberg article takes a “dark” turn: Bloomberg accuses PLF of being funded by “dark money” and quotes the president of a progressive watchdog group, who suggests PLF’s “ultimate goal is to use litigation to strip Americans of their rights and undermine democracy.” 

It’s a head-scratcher (but something we’ve seen before): In defending Americans whose rights have been violated, PLF supposedly is furthering a secret goal to “strip Americans of their rights.” If that were our secret goal, we’d be doing a very bad job of it. Our victories at every level of the court system have only bolstered Americans’ rights, from our Supreme Court victory last term in Tyler, which protected the property rights of a 94-year-old Minneapolis grandmother, to our recent district court victory that made busking legal in Houston. Every PLF case, big or small, aims to do precisely the opposite of what progressive watchdogs apparently think we do. 

As for the dark money claim: Bloomberg complains that some of PLF’s funding comes from foundations, which don’t disclose their donors. When it comes to donor privacy, I stand with the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argued in a 2021 amicus brief that “the compelled disclosure of an expressive association’s members or supporters threatens to chill free association, because people may refrain from exercising those freedoms rather than expose themselves to government reprisal or private retaliation.” The ACLU, like PLF, reports that its funding comes from a mix of private foundations and individuals. 

In other words: If you think accepting donations from foundations is bad because not all donors are public, you don’t just have a problem with PLF; you also have a problem with the ACLU and any number of other nonprofits. 

All told, Bloomberg got a lot right about PLF. Our firm is growing at a fast pace: “close to a 100% increase since 2016,” Bloomberg notes. We’re filing more cases than ever. And it’s true that “one of the keys to [PLF’s] success at the Supreme Court is their ability to humanize esoteric, often unpopular causes.”  

But Bloomberg makes PLF’s “relatable plaintiffs” seem like a ruse:  

“PLF will represent a landowner who potentially presents more sympathetic facts for the court to roll back environmental regulations than you would get if you are directly representing polluters,” Sanjay Narayan, managing attorney of the Sierra Club’s environmental law program, told Bloomberg News.

I don’t know how to convince Bloomberg of this, but PLF believes what we say we believe. We represent clients whose rights have been violated in egregious ways by the government—that’s why they’re sympathetic. We’re not hiding our true mission behind sympathetic clients—defending our clients’ liberty is our true mission.  

Clearly, Bloomberg wants readers to worry that the Supreme Court’s current makeup is giving PLF and other groups “outsized power and influence.” Well: It’s true that we’ve been winning cases in which individuals are challenging unjust laws or regulations at a more frequent pace. But it’s equally true that nearly half of PLF’s 17 Supreme Court victories—including two this past term—have been unanimous decisions. Maybe that’s a signal that PLF’s ideas have more purchase across all ideologies than Bloomberg gives us credit for.