Chief Counsel and Policy Director, Judicial Crisis Network
Crusader for Conservative Courts
Industry: Legal activism
Key previous position: Law clerk, Justice Clarence Thomas
Education: Duke; Michigan State; Harvard Law
Notable fact: Studied biology in college
Carrie Severino wanted to teach law. When that didn’t happen, she took her lesson plan to a bigger audience.
Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, has emerged as the principal public advocate for President Trump’s judicial nominees as he and Senate Republicans overhaul the federal judiciary.
Severino is not new to supporting judges with conservative judicial philosophies, having joined JCN five years after its 2005 founding. Severino, who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas in 2007, and the group were animated in part by senators’ and progressive activists’ opposition to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987.
“You have to be there just to counter that” liberal opposition, Severino said. “It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get the judge across the finish line. But if you don’t have that, it guarantees that you will lose.”
Severino and JCN’s strategy is to dominate mass-media airwaves. The group spent $17 million in TV and digital ads to defend then-Supreme Court nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, most of which was spent urging vulnerable Democratic senators to vote to confirm the embattled D.C. circuit judge Kavanaugh. Severino herself, even while raising six children, also repeatedly made the case to reporters covering the contentious confirmation fights.
“Carrie is very good at going on TV and getting out the message,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the Article III Project, which supports Trump’s nominees. “She has a great legal mind and a great political mind.”
But for that support, along with the backing of the White House and Senate Republicans, Kavanaugh may not have made it to the bench. “There’s a million ‘but-fors’, but I do think we are probably one of them,” she said.
As the 2020 election approaches, expect Severino’s operation to try to push judges to the fore. JCN launched a $1.1 million ad buy in June urging Democratic presidential candidates to disclose their short list for the high court if given the opportunity to nominate a new justice, as Trump did in 2016.
—Zach C. Cohen