Betsy DeVos and extended members of the Education secretary’s wealthy family have contributed at least $22,500 to one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees for the judge’s campaign for a state Supreme Court seat, according to a review of campaign finance records.
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, whom Trump has nominated to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, collected $2,500 each from DeVos and eight relatives on Aug. 9, 2016, according to Michigan records. The donations were made several months before Trump nominated DeVos to be Education secretary. Larsen was appointed to the state’s high court in 2015 and was formally elected last November.
But Larsen’s profile rose nationally well before her victory to the Michigan court last fall, when then-candidate Trump named her to his short list of potential Supreme Court nominees during his presidential campaign.
Members of the DeVos family who contributed to Larsen’s judicial campaign in Michigan included DeVos; her husband Dick, who is president of investment firm The Windquest Group; Dick DeVos’ parents, Richard and Helen; Dan DeVos, Betsy DeVos’ brother-in-law and his wife, Pamella; another brother-in-law, Doug DeVos, and his wife, Maria; and sister-in-law Suzanne Cheryl DeVos. The family’s patriarch, Richard DeVos, co-founded Amway, the global direct-sales company.
"Betsy DeVos and her family’s donations to fellow far-right Republicans like Joan Larsen are a bright flashing sign to Donald Trump that Larsen is a hard-line conservative who will back Trump’s extreme policies from the bench,” said Kevin McAlister, a spokesman for the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge, which flagged the donations to POLITICO.
“DeVos’ donations to Senate Republicans helped grease the wheels to her confirmation and now, the DeVos family contributions to Trump’s judicial pick are helping to get her one step closer to a lifetime seat on the 6th Circuit that will be dangerous to working families."
Officials at the White House and at Education Department did not return requests seeking comment.
Betsy DeVos’ deep well of campaign contributions to Republican candidates and conservative causes became one of several flash points during her contentious confirmation battle. During her hearing, DeVos said it was “possible” that her family has made $200 million in campaign contributions over time, while liberal groups pressured GOP senators who had gotten checks from the DeVos clan to recuse themselves from voting on her confirmation.
None did, but DeVos was narrowly confirmed to lead the Education Department only after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. Two Senate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — opposed DeVos in her confirmation vote in February.
The battle over Larsen has yet to begin in earnest in the Senate, which handed Trump an early win with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April and installed Amul Thapar, the first of Trump’s nominees to the lower courts, just last week. Larsen was among 10 judicial nominees announced by the White House earlier this month.
Democratic senators actually have more leverage against Larsen’s nomination than other judicial candidates, since she hails from a state represented by two Democrats who could try and block her confirmation proceedings through the so-called blue-slip rule. The Senate Judiciary Committee has traditionally not scheduled hearings for judicial nominees until both home-state senators return a blue slip to the committee — giving the in-state duo effective veto power.
But that may change. Senate Republicans this year have already signaled that they are less willing to abide by the blue-slip rule for circuit court nominees, who would sit on a court that spans several states, rather than for district court candidates who represent a single state. Larsen has been nominated for the 6th Circuit, which is based in Cincinnati and hears appellate cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Whether Michigan’s senators — Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who are both Democrats — will try and block proceedings for Larsen isn’t yet determined. An aide to Stabenow said the senator has not yet received Larsen’s paperwork, while a spokeswoman for Peters said the senator had not made a decision.
Larsen, who clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School and in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush.