America First Legal (AFL) is a 501(c)(3) organization launched by former Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller and the Conservative Partnership Institute in early 2021. At the time of its founding, America First Legal was envisioned as “a conservative version of the American Civil Liberties Union,” intended to challenge the Biden administration.
During President Biden’s first two years in office, AFL was particularly active in filing Freedom of Information requests and suing the administration. The group has also identified several issue areas where it shares positions held by Congressional Republicans. For example, the group has been particularly critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the southern border and the supposed politicization of the Department of Justice.
Like other MAGA-affiliated groups, AFL has been dedicated to engaging in fights over LGBTQ+ issues, particularly transgender rights. In the lead up to the 2022 midterms, the group ran ads and sent out mailers in at least 25 states attacking trans teens. In the same advertising blitz, AFL aired ads accusing the Biden administration of so-called anti-white racism. The ads were widely condemned and found to be misleading by fact checkers.
Since House Republicans’ narrow victory in the 2022 midterm election, AFL has worked closely with the new majority to support members of Congress in their oversight investigations. Before the new Congress was sworn in, Jim Jordan, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Secretary Mayorkas concerning planned investigations of the Department of Homeland Security, citing an amicus brief filed by the America First Legal Foundation. Republican members of Congress and AFL have at times echoed the same talking points, and AFL has attacked liberal nonprofits who worked to slow the House Oversight Committee.
Stephen Miller is the President of America First Legal and a former Senior Advisor to President Trump. He is often credited with the administration’s anti-immigration policies and campaigned within the administration to restrict both illegal and legal immigration to the fullest extent possible.
Miller began his career working in communications on the Hill where he developed a reputation as an anti-immigrant hardliner. After a brief stint as Michele Bachmann’s press secretary during her 2008 reelection, Miller moved to the office of then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who had a reputation as “the Senate’s staunchest opponent of immigration.” While in Sessions’ office, Miller worked to kill the immigration reform proposed by the so-called “gang of eight,” a bipartisan group of Senators attempting to pass an immigration compromise which ultimately failed.
In 2016, Miller took a leave of absence from Session’s office to work on Trump’s presidential campaign and was eventually promoted to speechwriter, where he helped shape Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric. In the White House, Miller was the Trump administration’s leading anti-immigrant voice.
Miller’s first major policy fight was over the now infamous “travel ban” and its botched rollout that harmed asylum seekers, refugees, and travelers with visas at airports. In response, the ACLU and other legal aid groups dispatched lawyers to airports around the country. The backlash was swift, with protests breaking out in airports everywhere and bipartisan criticism from Democrats and Republicans, as well as the business community which relied on an international workforce. The first executive order was quickly stayed by federal judges in New York and Virginia but Miller and the administration refined the executive order until the Supreme Court accepted the language in a 5-4 decision that “gave broad leeway to presidential authority.”
Just months after the chaotic travel ban that kicked off Stephen Miller’s policy tenure in the Trump administration, Miller advocated for a policy of family separation at the border. Miller became a cheerleader for the policy inside the administration, even pitching the idea directly to then-DHS secretary, John Kelly, who reportedly opposed the idea. The first child separation policies were carried out at individual border crossings by local Border Patrol chiefs in Texas and New Mexico in 2017. These “pilot” initiatives were later referenced by Miller and his number two, Gene Hamilton, to push for family separation.
Miller is largely credited with bending the Department of Homeland Security to his will and forcing the agency to implement the family separation policy. Miller circumvented the typical bureaucratic structure to accomplish this policy objective; after months of lobbying and internal pressure, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen finally caved on the policy.
The policy was mired in chaos, defined by a failure to properly track the locations of both children and parents resulting in the separation of thousands of children. Many were separated for years, as of February 2023, about 1,000 children remained separated from their families.
White Nationalism and the “Great Replacement Theory”
A 2019 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that Miller often “promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage…”. SPLC reviewed 900 private emails that Miller had sent to Breitbart News editors in the run-up to the 2016 election. In one email, he echoed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, writing about politicians’ desire to use “immigration to replace existing demographics.”
In a series of Fox News interviews, Miller articulated key aspects of the great replacement conspiracy, including that illegal immigration could cause the collapse of “American civilization.” In one interview with Miller, Tucker Carlson said: “The numbers tell a very clear story. Americans are not replacing themselves naturally by having children in a country that is increasingly hostile to children and immigration is increasingly making up the difference. Why don’t we have the right to be mad about that?” Miller responded by claiming that growing immigration was reducing “social cohesion” and threatening to eliminate American culture.
Gene Hamilton is Vice President and General Counsel for America First Legal. He is also the highest paid staff member.
Hamilton got his start working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Atlanta before joining then Senator Sessions’ staff on Capitol Hill as General Counsel. In the Trump administration, he worked as senior counselor to the DHS secretary. When Trump announced Kirstjen Nielsen would succeed John Kelly as DHS secretary, Hamilton quit to protest the hiring of someone he viewed as a moderate. He quickly found another job with his old boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
At both DHS and DOJ, Hamilton worked closely with Miller to develop hawkish immigration policy. Together, they pushed the child separation policy and worked to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Hamilton is credited with drafting the legal memo that led to DACA’s repeal.
Mark Meadows is listed as a member of AFL’s board of directors. Meadows is a former congressman from North Carolina and served as White House chief of staff under President Trump. When Meadows arrived on Capitol Hill in 2012, he quickly established himself as a “conservative disrupter.” In 2015 he was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, cementing his reputation as one of the Republican conference’s “bomb-throwers” who worked to “blow up congressional deals over the budget, health care, and immigration” and orchestrated the ousting of House Speaker John Boehner.
While serving as White House chief of staff, Meadows was “allegedly a key enabler of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.” While Trump promoted election conspiracy theories, Meadows consolidated power and sought to separate then-Vice President Pence from Trump. Meadows also advised Trump as he faced a second impeachment over his role in inciting the violent January 6th attack on the Capitol.
On the Hill and in the White House, Meadows had a reputation of playing both sides of issues. According to the New Yorker, “a former Republican leadership aide once told the journalists Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman that Meadows was the most dishonest person he had ever met at the Capitol, ‘convicted criminals included.’” Testimony from the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack quoted Meadows saying “ Trump thinks Mike deserves it” as administration officials warned Trump that insurrectionists wanted to hang his vice president. Meadows also asked Trump for a criminal pardon, a sign that he anticipated legal action following the Capitol attack.
Matthew Whitaker is a member of America First Legal’s board of directors and previously worked in the Trump administration as chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then as acting Attorney General following Sessions’ ousting. Trump’s decision to install Whitaker as acting attorney general was attacked as potentially unconstitutional because he had not been confirmed by the Senate, as is required by the Constitution. During his brief tenure as acting Attorney General, Whitaker was the subject of ongoing criticism and ethical concerns:
Before Whitaker was named acting Attorney General, he was an advisory board member for World Patent Marketing, a firm that claimed to help customers bring their inventions to market. In reality, the firm was little more than a multi-million dollar scam and was later shut down by the Federal Trade Commission. Whitaker’s bio as a former US Attorney in Iowa was prominently featured on World Patent’s website, as were the bios of other prominent board members. Whitaker himself sent an email in 2015 on behalf of the company threatening a former customer and claiming that “smearing” the firm would result in “serious civil and criminal consequences.” Investigations into the firm continued through Whitaker’s tenure as acting Attorney General.
Ed Corrigan, a longtime GOP operative and former Trump administration staffer, is also a member of AFL’s board of directors. Early in his career, Corrigan interned for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the stewardship of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), known as an “advocate for segregation.” Corrigan also served as the legislative director for former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), who vehemently opposed LGBTQ rights and once “[waved] a plastic fetus on the floor of the US Senate in an anti-abortion speech.” Corrigan was previously executive director of the Senate Steering Committee under former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and also served as DeMint’s senior advisor. While working on the Hill, Corrigan received the Weyrich Award for Hill Staffer of the Year, named after Paul Weyrich, the first president of the Heritage Foundation.
Corrigan followed Senator DeMint to the Heritage Foundation, where he started as a senior advisor and later was named vice president. After informally communicating with the Trump administration over months, Corrigan was tapped to help Trump’s transition team staff domestic agencies.
In addition to his role at AFL, Corrigan is also CEO and president of the Conservative Partnership Institute and treasurer of the American Accountability Foundation, a right-wing dark money group created to “prevent the approval of all Biden administration nominees.”
Wesley Denton, a former Trump administration staffer and COO of the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), is also a board member of America First Legal. As a Trump staffer, Denton worked in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. In addition to his role at CPI, Denton serves as the secretary of the American Accountability Foundation, a CPI project focused on opposition research.
Denton formerly served as group vice president of communications and senior policy advisor at the Heritage Foundation, working under then-president former Senator Jim DeMint. Denton also previously worked in the official offices of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), and the House Armed Services Committee press office.
Conservative operative and public affairs specialist Ian Prior is senior advisor for America First Legal. Prior also serves as the spokesman for One Nation, the 501(c)(4) organization founded by Republican operative Karl Rove that is linked to the Mitch McConnell-controlled Senate Leadership Fund PAC. Prior has also served as spokesperson for other Karl Rove-linked groups, including American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.
Russ Vought is an America First Legal board member perhaps best known for serving as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration. Prior to his tenure in the White House, Vought was vice president of Heritage Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, and headed up the Republican Study Committee, where he argued the group should aim to “push [Republican] leadership as far to the right as possible.” He also worked for former Senators Dan Coats (R-IN) and Phil Gramm (R-TX), and Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
Vought’s time at OMB was marred by controversy. His confirmation process for deputy director of OMB was severely complicated by his 2016 blog posts, including a post that claimed Islam was “a deficient theology,” and another that praised his alma mater for firing a professor who was “seeking solidarity with Muslims.” Vought was one of nine administration officials who defied subpoenas during Trump’s first impeachment after the Government Accountability Office found that OMB violated federal law by freezing security aid to Ukraine. This decision raised concerns as to whether Trump was attempting to extract political favors from the Ukrainian government in exchange for aid. After the 2020 election, Vought was accused of hampering the incoming administration by preventing Biden officials from meeting with OMB staff. Vought is also known for his aggressive advocacy for unpopular spending cuts at OMB, including massive cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
Vought is founder and president of the Center for Renewing America, which he apparently founded “to renew a consensus of America as a nation under God.” He also claimed that a “biblical” worldview sits at the core of the organization’s policy platform. Vought once signed a statement claiming that “the Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities,” and authored a Newsweek op-ed titled: “Is There Anything Actually Wrong With ‘Christian Nationalism?’”
Vought positioned the CRA to engage in right-wing culture wars, leading attacks on anti-racism and diversity initiatives under the guise of “combating critical race theory.” He claimed that fighting the “transgender contagion” is key to “save our civilization” and claimed that “the LGBT movement […] demands not only to be left alone but also a license to indoctrinate children in the public schools.” Vought also praised a controversial bill passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banning public schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade.
Vought is closely connected to former Senator Jim DeMint, who also previously served as president of The Heritage Foundation. DeMint founded the Conservative Partnership Institute, the CRA’s parent organization, and currently serves as CPI’s chairman. Vought has appeared in Conservative Partnership Institute’s promotional materials and has produced podcasts at CPI’s studios.
Vought is a key member of Project 2025, a conservative project to prepare for a potential 2025 Republican presidential transition. The coalition calls for an executive order that could result in the firing of tens of thousands of federal workers, which would be an “unprecedented scale” of federal staff changes. The organization is also building a “conservative LinkedIn” of ideologically-trained future presidential appointees to fill the absences left by such a mass firing. Vought separately revealed CRA’s plan for a future Republican presidential administration, which includes “deconstruct[ng] the state” and generally gutting the federal government to make it easier for political appointees and other federal workers to obtain security clearances to “crush the deep state.”
Vought drew public attention after House Republicans signaled they would stage a fight over the debt ceiling. In 2023, Vought met with Republican lawmakers in private to pitch $150 billion in spending cuts as part of negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. The CRA’s budget proposal has become a blueprint for House Republicans’ own budget proposal they intend to use in the debt ceiling fight.
In the final days of the 2022 midterm elections, AFL ran a series of radio, tv, and mail ads featuring a series of claims about so-called “anti-white bigotry.” The ads were widely condemned. Politico wrote the ad “represents one of the most openly race-based spots of the cycle, amplifying tropes that have historically been used to generate backlash to minority groups.” Chris Hayes said the ads were “indistinguishable from David Duke.” Vanity Fair referred to the ads as “insidious,” the New York Times called them “inflammatory,” and the Democratic National Committee called them “racist, divisive, and false.”
America First Legal also ran radio and mail ads attacking trans youth in battleground states. The ads, which were “pushing baseless and outlandish disinformation designed to scare parents,” claimed the Biden administration was promoting the “chemical and surgical castration of boys and girls.” The Human Rights Campaign called the ads “grotesque,” while NAACP president Derrick Johnson said the ads were “the worst I’ve seen this cycle.”
America First Legal is dedicated to tracking political appointees and staff across the Biden administration. In 2021, AFL submitted FOIA requests to every agency and department in the federal government to build out a database of political staff, later filing lawsuits against individual departments. The database, named The Woke Wagon, exposes the personal information of political staff in the administration.
In 2022, America First Legal joined the Conservative Partnership Institute in founding the Center for Legal Equality, a project seeking to use civil rights law to punish private companies working to diversify their workforces. AFL again invokes so-called “anti-white bigotry” in its criticism of corporate policies promoting diversity. In 2022, AFL filed a civil rights complaint against Kontoor Brands, the parent company for the apparel brands Wrangler and Lee, alleging “unlawful, racist hiring practices,” that “set ‘measurable goals’ for its racial and ethnic workforce composition in its global inclusion and diversity strategy.”
In a separate civil rights complaint, AFL asked the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate Yum! Brands for “engaging in unlawful, discriminatory hiring practices.” In the complaint, AFL claimed that the firm’s commitment to “increasing representation of Black and Latinx US associates…to match the combined demographics of those groups within the US,” is illegal because it constitutes “balancing” when hiring and promoting individuals.
In a letter sent directly to Yum!, AFL requested that the company stop their diversity initiative and conduct an internal audit that would be made available to shareholders. The letter also attacked Yum! for their support of BookIt!, a reading initiative sponsored by Yum! owned brand Pizza Hut. BookIt! promotes youth literacy and offers Pizza Hut discounts to encourage participation in their reading program. AFL took issue with some of the books promoted by BookIt!, claiming the books were “promoting the sexualization of children.”
AFL has filed numerous other civil rights complaints against major corporations, claiming the firms are practicing so-called “anti-white racism” for political purposes. AFL has filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hershey’s, Lyft, and Starbucks. The complaints filed against Amazon, Hershey’s, Lyft, and Starbucks focused on alleged hiring discrimination against non-minorities. In the cases of Dick’s and partially Lyft, the complaint focused on initiatives that allegedly discriminate against moms. In the complaint filed against Dick’s, AFL claimed the firm’s “special employment benefit” for individuals seeking an abortion of “up to $4,000” violated Title VII because “Dick’s does not offer an equivalent paid benefit to a mother who has her baby.”
AFL’s complaint against Lyft accuses the company of both “anti-white” discrimination and discrimination against moms. Following the Dobbs decision, Lyft offered employees reimbursement for travel of over 100 miles for an abortion and related healthcare. AFL claimed this violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 because no equivalent program was offered to individuals who had chosen to have children. AFL also accused Lyft of “unlawful hiring practices” when they started an initiative to promote the hiring of minorities throughout the firm. The complaint also alleges that Lyft “charged its customers differently based on their race” when they started two initiatives that provided free or discounted rides to communities of color.
America First Legal routinely files amicus briefs in support of conservative causes.
|Date Brief Fled||Case Name||Summary||AFL Brief|
|1/20/22||McDonald v. Firth||AFL filed a brief on behalf of the petitioners in a case that challenged the ability of state bar associations to promote social justice causes. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.||AFL brief|
|1/11/22||Trump v. Thompson||The January 6th Select Committee sued Trump over his claims of executive privilege. AFL filed a brief on behalf of the former President.||AFL brief|
|8/27/21||Zimmerman v. Austin||The plaintiff sued the city of Austin over a 2019 budget item that would provide $150,000 to facilitate abortion services. AFL filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs.||AFL brief|
|8/9/21||The Sch. of the Ozarks v. Biden||The School of the Ozarks sued the Biden administration and HUD over an executive order that could force the school to allow trans women to live in the women’s dorms.||AFL brief|
|2/1/23||The State of Tennessee v. Department of Education||The state of Tennessee and 19 other states sued the Biden administration and the Department of Education over an expanded definition of “sex discrimination” under Title IX.||AFL brief|
|12/8/22||Gonzalez v. Google||Google was sued over their interpretation of Section 230 when they allowed their algorithm to serve radicalizing videos to the terrorists that carried out the November 2015 attack in Paris. The AFL brief was filed on behalf of 11 Senators and six members of Congress against Google.||AFL brief filled with Heritage and Boyden Gray Associates|
|2/30/22||Eknes Tucker v. Marshall||AFL filed a brief on behalf of the defense in an Alabama case that challenged the state’s ability to limit transgender youth’s access to medication. A judge issued an injunction and the brief challenged that action.||AFL brief|
|5/31/22||Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden||AFL filed two briefs in support of the petitioners in a lawsuit filed by government employees against the Biden administration over the executive order that mandated all federal employees receive the Covid vaccine. The first brief supported the plaintiffs in their fifth circuit case, while the second requested a rehearing en banc.||AFL brief requesting a rehearing|
|5/9/22||Carter Page v. Oath inc||AFL filed a brief in support of the petitioners and their defamation suit against several news outlets for stories published during the 2016 presidential campaign. The brief requested that the Supreme Court reconsider the landmark decision New York Times v. Sullivan by accepting the petitioner’s writ of certiorari.||AFL brief requesting a rehearing|
|5/9/22||Texas v. Biden||AFL filed a brief supporting the states of Texas and Missouri in their suit against the Biden administration decision to lift pandemic-era border policies.||May AFL brief|
|5/3/22||Allen v. Milligan||AFL filed a brief in support of the Alabama legislature and their redistricted congressional map, arguing that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional and should not impede the state legislature from gerrymandering their congressional districts.||AFL brief|
|3/4/22||Kennedy v. Bremerton School District||AFL filed a brief on behalf of a high school football coach who led a post-game prayer with his players.||AFL brief|
|12/22/21||Carter Page v. DNC||AFL filed a brief on behalf of Dr. Carter Page who sued the DNC and the law firm Perkins Coie over the release of the Steele Dossier, an opposition research report that accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign.||AFL brief|
|12/21/21||Arizona v. City and County of San Francisco, California||AFL filed a brief on behalf of Arizona in their lawsuit challenging the court’s decision to rule a Trump-era immigration rule unlawful.||AFL brief|
|4/29/21||Von Dohlen v. City of San Antonio||AFL filed a brief on behalf of petitioners who sued the city of San Antonio after its city council voted to prohibit the opening of a Chick-fil-A in the local airport, in part because of the company’s anti-LGBTQ stances and funding of extreme right-wing groups.||AFL brief|
|6/30/22||The State of Louisiana, et al. v. Joseph R. Biden, Jr.||AFL filed a brief supporting Louisiana and nine other states in their suit against the Biden administration over its move to use the binding calculations of the societal costs of greenhouse gasses by the Interagency Working Group, a new agency formed by the administration. AFL and the attorneys general claim the creation of the agency and its mandates are unconstitutional.||AFL brief|
|9/7/22||Moore v. Harper||AFL filed a brief in support of the legislature of North Carolina in their case against the state supreme court. The state legislature sued the supreme court when the court overturned a gerrymandered congressional map that violated the state constitution. The state argued that under the US Constitution, only state legislatures have the authority to draw legislative maps — relying on a legal theory known as the “independent state legislature theory.”||AFL brief|
In 2021, AFL’s first year, the group raised just over $6.3 million dollars and spent a little over $2 million. Due to the nature of nonprofit disclosures, it is impossible to know exactly where the money originated. However, disclosure forms from associated nonprofits show that AFL raised over $1.3 million from the Conservative Partnership Institute and $27,000 from Donors Trust. Reporting from the Washington Post found that Steve Wynn, former finance chair of the RNC who resigned in 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct, is an AFL donor, though it is unclear exactly how much money he contributed.
According to media reports, AFL “works closely with Congress on oversight issues.” The group often offers quotes in defense of House Republicans regarding their work on oversight. For example, when the far-right started to criticize the work of Rep. Jim Jordan’s Weaponization of Government Committee, AFL president Stephen Miller defended the congressman and his committee’s work.”
AFL was founded as part of an incubation project at the Conservative Partnership Institute that saw the development of seven other new conservative organizations. AFL features prominently in CPI’s 2021 annual report, which includes a rundown of AFL’s 2021 accomplishments. In the report, CPI claimed credit for the founding of AFL, adding: “it was one of the most important decisions we’ve ever made.”
America First Legal has a positive relationship with former President Donald Trump. Much of AFL’s staff and board are made up of former Trump administration officials including Miller, Gene Hamilton, and Mark Meadows. When AFL officially launched, Trump issued a supportive statement.
Following Trump’s indictment, AFL stepped in to show its support. The organization issued a statement condemning the indictment, and launched an investigation into the district attorney’s office by filing a freedom of information act request. In the request, AFL asked for text messages, emails, WhatsApp messages, and other communication regarding Trump between the District Attorney’s office and the Biden administration, the New York Times, DOJ, DHS, and any person on the Free and Fair Litigation Group, a pro-democracy legal nonprofit founded to combat “threats to democracy” following the Trump presidency.
During the 2022 midterms, Citizens for Sanity ran ads that were described as “vile,” “openly racist,” and were compared to the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad. The ads ran in major media markets with competitive midterm elections and appeared to attack or mock progressives and Democratic candidates.
According to documents filed with TV stations, Citizens for Sanity is entirely staffed by individuals associated with America First Legal. The paperwork lists Gene Hamilton, Ian Prior, and John Zadrozny as members of the leadership team. Hamilton is the vice president and general counsel for AFL, Prior is a senior advisor for AFL, and Zadrozny is an investigator with AFL. Zadrozny formerly worked with The Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their close “ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements.”