New Civil Liberties Alliance

The New Civil Liberties Alliance is an organization dedicated to undermining the administrative state and reducing the ability of the federal government to administer laws.

About New Civil Liberties Alliance

The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to undermining the administrative state and reducing the ability of the federal government to administer laws. The organization was founded in 2017 by Philip Hamburger, a prominent legal scholar who has studied and written about the legality of administrative power. 

The NCLA frames its legal advocacy as working on behalf of individual liberty and freedom and against an overbearing and irrational federal government. NCLA’s stated mission is “to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State.” Its mission statement goes on to say: “NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.” NCLA’s work protecting and restoring “fundamental rights” is focused on protecting the rights of corporations to pollute the environment, limiting workers’ ability to unionize, undermining worker safety in favor of corporate profits, and fighting for the right to own deadly bump stock devices for firearms. 

The NCLA is funded almost exclusively by dark money funneled through right-wing organizations controlled by Leonard Leo and the Koch brothers.

Philip Hamburger, Founder and CEO of NCLA and Professor of Law at Columbia University

Philip Hamburger is the founder and CEO of the NCLA. Hamburger is a scholar of constitutional law and its history and is the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia University. Hamburger is the author of a number of books, including Is Administrative Law Unlawful? and The Administrative Threat, in which he argues that the administrative state is unconstitutional. In his most recent book, Liberal Suppression: Section 501(c)(3) and the Taxation of Speech, Hamburger argues that IRS restrictions on the political speech of charitable organizations are unconstitutional. In 2017, the same year Hamburger founded the NCLA, The Bradley Foundation awarded Hamburger the Bradley Prize, an annual award that has been presented to myriad conservative figures, including John Bolton, Leonard Leo, Jeb Bush, and Betsy DeVos.

Mark Chenoweth, President and General Counsel of NCLA

Mark Chenoweth is the president and general counsel of NCLA. Chenoweth previously served in leadership positions with Republican officials, including in George W. Bush’s Justice Department and as chief of staff to then-Representative Mike Pompeo. Chenoweth has also worked as in-house counsel for Koch Industries, the business owned by billionaire Charles Koch who provided NCLA with $2 million in funding in their first two years. 

The New Civil Liberties Alliance was founded to attack and reduce the power of the administrative state. The so-called administrative state is a term used to describe the ability of administrative agencies to “create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules.” When Congress passes laws, the interpretation and enforcement of those laws are often delegated to federal agencies, whose work is overseen by the president. Conservatives began targeting the administrative state through the judiciary more explicitly during the Trump administration and saw the bureaucratic expansion of the state as unconstitutional.

The NCLA writes on its website that “the Administrative State [is] an especially serious threat to constitutional freedoms. No other development in contemporary American law denies more rights to more Americans.” As it is designed, the administrative state allows agencies to be dynamic and respond to changing conditions and information. NCLA often sues agencies after they have adopted new regulations or reinterpreted statutes in order to better carry out the mission of the agency. One example is Allstates Refractory Contractors v. Walsh. The NCLA filed an amicus brief on behalf of Allstates in their lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Allstates claimed the law that created OSHA was unconstitutional because Congress had only delegated the ability to set safety standards to the Secretary of Labor. Allowing the Secretary of Labor to set new safety rules permits the Department of Labor to quickly adapt to changing workplace conditions. Giving that power back to Congress would severely curtail the federal government’s ability to protect workers, the original mission of OSHA.

The process of Congress-delegated rule-making and oversight to a federal agency underpins much of the modern regulatory state. Eliminating it, as is the mission of the NCLA, would have dramatic consequences for Americans. Overturning the constitutionality of the administrative state would jeopardize the authority of the EPA and the environmental regulations that are enforced by the agency; the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its mission to protect Americans from predatory financial institutions; and the CDC’s ability to respond to public health emergencies; among others. The result would not, as the NCLA describes, be the expansion of civil rights to Americans. Instead, it would likely give large corporations the ability to pollute the environment, banks the ability to engage in predatory lending, and dangerous industries the ability to put profits above workplace safety.

In addition to filing cases, NCLA also files amicus briefs in cases that advance their mission. 

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

New Civil Liberties Alliance filed an amicus brief on behalf of Loper Bright Enterprises, a herring fishing company based in New Jersey, after they sued the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Fisheries Service had recently implemented a new rule that required commercial fishing vessels to pay for government observers to track their catch and ensure they are not violating fishing regulations. In the spring of 2023, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on Loper

While the case clearly targets a fisheries rule, the decision could imperil Chevron deference, a long-standing Supreme Court precedent that compels federal courts to defer to administrative agencies when ruling on ambiguous statutes. The rule has been used by agencies to adapt to a changing regulatory environment without new laws explicitly passed by Congress. A ruling overturning Chevron would have vast consequences for the administrative state and particularly for environmental policy. In recent years, congress has been unable to pass new laws guiding the Environmental Protection Agency on how to best combat climate change. This has left the agency dependent on decades-old statutes to design new rules regulating the emissions of industries, vehicles, and power plants. 

West Virginia v. Treasury 

New Civil Liberties Alliance filed a series of amicus briefs on behalf of states that sued the Department of Treasury over a provision of the American Rescue Plan that limited the state’s ability to use ARP funds to offset state tax revenue. NCLA accused the federal government of overreach when the ARP attempted to legislate a state’s ability to tax its own citizens. The cases were originally filed by four states but the case was eventually combined into a single docket when it was appealed at the Eleventh Circuit.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed that the ARP tax provision exceeded Congress’s authority to regulate the states under the Constitution. 

 Allstates Refractory Contractors LLC v. Walsh, et al.

New Civil Liberties Alliance filed an amicus brief in Refractory Contractors v. Walsh, a case that challenged the constitutionality of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a federal law that created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and established standards for workplace safety. The law was passed in 1970 and for more than fifty years, has acted to provide worker and workplace safety. The Sixth Circuit rejected Allstates’ argument against the constitutionality of OSHA and reaffirmed that the law was constitutional. 

BST Holdings v. Dept. of Labor, OSHA

NCLA filed an amicus brief in BST Holdings v. Dept. of Labor, a case that was brought against the Labor Department following an OSHA rule that mandated COVID vaccination or a testing regimen for all businesses with more than 100 employees. OSHA withdrew the rule after the Supreme Court determined the rule was too broad. 

West Virginia v. EPA

NCLA filed an amicus brief in West Virginia v. EPA, a case that challenged the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had overstepped its authority. Some members of the Court decried the ruling and accused conservative justices of ruling on a set of regulations that had been withdrawn with the sole purpose of cooling future EPA regulations. 

Charles Koch Foundation 

In 2017, the year the New Civil Liberties Alliance was founded, the Charles Koch Foundation contributed $1 million to the new group accounting for over 60 percent of NCLA’s annual budget. In 2018, the Charles Koch Foundation contributed another $1 million to NCLA. 

State Policy Network 

The New Civil Liberties Alliance is a member of the State Policy Network, a constellation of groups that advocate for conservative causes across the country. SPN has two types of members, affiliates which are state-based organizations, and partners, which are national organizations. NCLA is a partner organization. NCLA often works with other members of the SPN when filing lawsuits and amicus briefs. 

For example, NCLA filed an amicus brief in West Virginia v. EPA, a high-profile case that attacked the heart of the administrative state. Other amicus filers included the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the Buckeye Institute, and America First Policy Institute, all of which are members of the State Policy Network. 

Leonard Leo 

The New Civil Liberties Alliance has a close relationship with Leonard Leo, the leader of a longstanding campaign to stack the federal bench with right-wing partisans and the architect of a vast network of dark money organizations. Two groups that Leo uses to distribute the dark money under his control are the 85 Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Education Project) and DonorsTrust, a right-wing donor-advised fund that distributes large sums to conservative groups and causes. The 85 Fund and DonorsTrust have contributed $4 million to the NCLA since 2018. 

Bradley Foundation

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and its associated Bradley Impact Fund are funded by a 19th century industrial fortune. Since its inception, the Bradley Foundation has given away more than $1 billion, much of it to conservative causes related to civil rights, voting rights, welfare, education, climate change, and labor, among other issue areas. From 2001 to 2010, the Bradley Foundation gave out more than $350 million in grants. 

The Bradley Foundation has made three contributions to NCLA totaling $800,000

Other Known Funders Include The Following:

Donor Organization  Contribution  Year 
85 Fund  $1,000,000 2020
Bradley Foundation $300,000 2019
Bradley Foundation $300,000 2018
Bradley Foundation  $200,000 2020
DonorsTrust $1,000,000 2018
DonorsTrust $1,000,000 2019
DonorsTrust $50,000 2020
DonorsTrust $1,005,500 2021
Charles Koch Foundation  $15,418 2021
Charles Koch Foundation  $15,308 2020
Charles Koch Foundation  $1,007,769.00 2019
Charles Koch Foundation  $1,000,000 2018
Charles Koch Foundation  $1,000,000 2017
Sarah Scaife Foundation $300,000 2021
Sarah Scaife Foundation $300,000 2020
Sarah Scaife Foundation $300,000 2019
Sarah Scaife Foundation $300,000 2018
Total $9,093,995  

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