Thomas More Society & The Amistad Project

The Thomas More Society makes legal arguments against abortion, contraception, LGBTQ rights under the guise of relgious liberty, and has represented anti-abortion extremists. Its Amistad Project filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 election, and spread election disinformation.

About Thomas More Society & The Amistad Project

The Thomas More Society (TMS) is a Chicago-based conservative legal organization that wages legal battles over “free liberty” and “family values” issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. Its affiliate group, the Amistad Project, has been a central player in challenging the 2020 presidential election results.

  • The Thomas More Society (TMS) has fought to roll back abortion access since the late 1990s: TMS’ founding purpose was to challenge abortion rights and attack pro-choice groups in the courts. The Chicago Tribune described them as “one of the primary legal voices for people who oppose abortion and believe marriage should be between only a man and a woman” and as being “on the judicial front lines of the so-called culture wars.”
  • TMS’ affiliate group, the Amistad Project, bills itself as an “election integrity watchdog.” In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, the group filed numerous lawsuits alleging the election was stolen. They were also caught trying to deliver a fake slate of pro-Trump electors to the Michigan state legislature, where they were turned away by state police officers. In 2022, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel gave federal prosecutors the results of an investigation into these efforts.

Tom Brejcha, Founder, President, and Chief Counsel (Thomas More Society)

Tom Brejcha is the founder, president, and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. Brejcha’s bio on the Thomas More Society website claims he has spent over 40 years as a litigator “defending the sanctity of life, family, and religious liberty.”

  • Brejcha founded TMS after defending anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler in the early 1990s, who was sued by a women’s health organization for allegedly conspiring to obstruct access to abortion clinics through a racketeering scheme, “including the actual or implied threat of violence.” While the initial 1994 Supreme Court decision decided that non-economic activity (such as conspiring to obstruct abortion clinics) could be considered racketeering under the RICO Act, subsequent Supreme Court decisions in 2003 and 2006 sided with Scheidler. 

Andrew Bath, Executive Vice President (Thomas More Society)

TMS’ executive vice president Andrew Bath has spent his career fighting against abortion rights. 

Bath was the chairman of the board of the Wisconsin Right to Life PAC and is a member of the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

Ann Scheidler, Founding Director and Chair (Thomas More Society)

Ann Scheidler is a director of TMS’ board and the widow of anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler, whom TMS represented in its founding case. Ann Scheidler is also the chairwoman of the Pro-Life Action League

Phill Kline, Director (Amistad Project)

Amistad Project Director Phill Kline previously served as the Attorney General of Kansas. In 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Kline’s law license indefinitely after the court “found he had committed 11 violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with his investigations of abortion providers.” Kline is credited with introducing the idea of the Amistad Project to the Thomas More Society.

The Thomas More Society is one of many legal groups seeking to impose ultraconservative religious values on the public writ large. Its prominence and longevity in the anti-abortion movement made TMS a legal powerhouse in the right-wing religious sphere. The organization has since expanded to target other rights and protections. 

Anti-Abortion And Anti-Contraception Litigation

TMS was founded in 1997 to fight against abortion access following efforts by abortion rights and feminist groups to reign in the violent anti-abortion protests of the 1980s and 1990s. 

TMS refers to NOW v. Scheidler as “the case that started it all.” In 1986, Tom Brejcha joined the defense team for anti-abortion activist Joe Scheidler and other fringe anti-abortion activists who were sued by the National Organization for Women (NOW) for allegedly conspiring to close women’s health clinics. 

Since taking on the NOW v. Scheidler case, TMS has focused heavily on fighting abortion rights and access to contraception by:

  • Opposing the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that required employers’ health insurance plans to cover contraception for employees
  • Defending anti-abortion activist David Daleiden pro bono after he was charged with defrauding Planned Parenthood 
  • Filing an amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, urging the Supreme Court to end the constitutional right to obtain an abortion, which the court ultimately did.

Litigation Infringing On LGBTQ Rights

The group has fought against the legalization of same-sex marriage and represented businesses that sought to discriminate against LGBTQ customers.

  • TMS filed an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2017) in support of a cake shop owner who refused a same-sex couple’s request for a wedding cake. TMS said that the owner’s religious beliefs exempted him from fulfilling the order, and that requiring him to make the cake would wrongly convey that “a marriage has occurred” and an “approval of the wedding as an event to be celebrated.”
  • In 2013, an attorney at TMS wrote an opinion piece titled, “Why same-sex marriage is bad for Illinois,” in which she argued that “marriage rests on the biological fact that procreation requires both a man and a woman – and the reality that children need both a mother and a father.”  

COVID-19 Lawsuits

In 2020, TMS turned to litigation, attacking COVID-19 public safety measures such as mask mandates and restrictions on indoor gatherings

In one of its many COVID-related lawsuits, TMS represented a family in a lawsuit claiming that the San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement violated students’ religious liberties. 

  • TMS said that the student’s religion prevented her from “taking abortion-tainted COVID-19 vaccinations” and that the district was “forcing her to choose God over attending school and participating in competitive sports.”
  • TMS’ claim about COVID-19 vaccines being “abortion-tainted” is based on disinformation spread by conservative media to undermine COVID-19 public health measures. 
  • Fact-checkers and reporters wholeheartedly disputed the claim that COVID-19 vaccines contain fetal tissue. They explained that fetal cell lines were used to test the efficacy of the vaccines and during the manufacturing process, but “neither fetal cells nor fetal tissue are present in any of the vaccines” and “no new abortions were involved in making any aspect of the vaccines possible.”
  • Justice Clarence Thomas repeated the false claim in his dissenting opinion for a case challenging New York State’s requirement that all healthcare workers show proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. In his opinion, Thomas “suggested that Covid-19 vaccines were developed using the cells of ‘aborted children.’”

Education Lawsuits

In July 2021, the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit over the name change of a school in California, a move that students and staff celebrated as a step toward “righting a wrong from a brutal period in California’s history.” 

  • The district’s school board voted to change the name of Junípero Serra High School to Canyon Hills High School and change the school’s mascot from the Conquistadors to the Rattlers. The school was previously named after Junípero Serra, the Franciscan Friar who established the brutal California Mission System, which scholars have characterized as having a “near-genocidal policy” that furthered Spanish colonization. 
  • Journalist and author Elias Castillo described California’s mission system as a “terrible truth — that they were little more than concentration camps where California’s Indians were beaten, whipped, maimed, burned, tortured and virtually exterminated by the friars.” Students in the district said the school’s Conquistador mascot and tribute to Serra “ignores California history where Spanish conquerors killed millions of indigenous people.” 

TMS said the name change was “erasure and anti-Catholic bigotry” and “another example of the ‘cancel culture’ mentality that radical leftist people in education are trying to force on an unwilling American public.”

TMS claims to represent “some of the nation’s most renowned pro-life and religious leaders,” some of which are at the violent fringes of the anti-abortion movement.

Anti-Abortion Extremists

TMS provided legal representation for Father Norman Weslin, the founder and head of the anti-abortion group Lambs of Christ.

  • As the “shepherd” of the extreme anti-abortion group Lambs of Christ, Weslin led many highly-publicized protests outside abortion providers’ offices in the 1990s. He recruited “only…those who of their own free will would submit themselves totally and completely to the Lamb concept.” Under Weslin’s orders, the “lambs” reportedly “locked themselves to doors or junk cars, blocking clinic entrances with chains or locks welded to fit tight around their necks.”
  • Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation Kathy Spillar said she “personally witnessed Weslin using violent tactics and encouraging others to use violence.” Spillar said Weslin led a “rampage” in 1992, where his group allegedly knocked pro-choice advocates to the ground and left at least one woman concussed. 
  • TMS President Tom Brejcha said that TMS was “privileged” to defend Weslin in 2001 when he was arrested for entering a buffer zone outside of a reproductive healthcare clinic in violation of a previous restraining order. TMS also represented Weslin as part of the “Notre Dame 88,” a group of abortion protesters that were arrested in 2009.
  • After Weslin died in 2012, Brejcha called him “a saintly priest, and as good and honorable a man who ever walked on American soil” and an “inspiration” to the pro-life movement. 

TMS’ clients also include the violence-stoking anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its president, Troy Newman, who was denied entry into Australia out of fears that his visit would lead to “threats or the commission of acts of violence against women and medical professionals.”

Amistad Project’s Lawsuits And Disinformation Aimed At Undermining The 2020 Presidential Election

The Thomas More Society joined conservatives’ attempts to overturn the election results in 2020 by creating the Amistad Project, an initiative to file federal and state lawsuits challenging the presidential election results in key swing states won by Biden. The Amistad Project’s litigation efforts surrounding the 2020 election were ultimately unsuccessful

  • Leading up to the November 2020 elections, the Amistad Project teamed up with “grassroots” organizations in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in an attempt to block grants that would help underfunded election offices cover administrative costs. Amistad made baseless allegations that Mark Zuckerberg, who provided funding for many of the grants through the Center for Tech and Civic Life nonprofit, “intended to use government employees to influence the outcome of the presidential election” and help Democrats.
  • One of the group’s more extreme lawsuits was filed in Wisconsin and demanded that the Republican-controlled state legislature be given the power to appoint the state’s ten presidential electors. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the case, citing its “glaring flaws that render the petition woefully deficient.” One judge called the lawsuit “the most dramatic invocation of judicial power” he had ever seen and said that the Amistad Project was asking the court to tread “a dangerous path.”

Disinformation Around Election Integrity

  • Since Biden’s inauguration, the Amistad Project has continued to spread conspiracy theories casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, pushing outlandish claims alleging that Mark Zuckerberg conspired with Democrats to steal the election in swing states. Amistad boasts about having “the only ongoing litigation against the shadow government that interfered with the 2020 election.”
  • Amistad has spread disinformation accusing election officials of enabling widespread voter fraud through mail-in and absentee ballots. Among other false claims, the group circulated videos supposedly showing “ballot harvesting” in Pennsylvania in 2020; fact-checkers easily disproved these claims.
  • The group has also spread conspiracies about state-level elections, including false claims about ballot envelopes in California’s 2021 gubernatorial recall election “showing voters’ recall preferences.”  

Hypocrisy Surrounding The Amistad Project’s “Election Integrity” Mission

The Amistad Project bills itself as an “election integrity” watchdog, yet the organization itself attempted to interfere with Michigan’s election procedures in 2020. The group was “central in the effort” to replace the electors chosen by Michigan voters with illegitimate electors who would vote for Trump in the Electoral College despite Joe Biden’s victory in the state. 

  • The New York Times reported that on December 14, 2020, as members of the Electoral College prepared to certify electors in all 50 states, Amistad Project attorney Ian Northon “tried to deliver a false slate of pro-Trump electors to the Michigan Legislature in Lansing.” Meanwhile, the group’s director, Phill Kline, “fanned across right-wing media outlets promoting the fake elector plan.”
  • On December 22, 2020, after their alternate slates of electors had been rejected, the Amistad Project filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Republican state lawmakers were “prohibited from fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities.” The case — which was ultimately dismissed — was filed against Vice President Mike Pence, both chambers of Congress, five governors, and ten state legislators. According to the New York Times, the lawsuit “sought a judicial order that would have essentially forced Mr. Pence to acknowledge the fake electors.” 

Despite its own attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, the Amistad Project continues to bill itself as “the nation’s leading election integrity watchdog.”

Thomas More Society has received grants from DonorsTrust, an organization affiliated with the Koch and Leonard Leo networks that Mother Jones described as the “dark money ATM of the right.”

Donald Trump

The Amistad Project was “central in the effort” to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election after Trump’s defeat. The New York Times reported that the Amistad Project “worked closely with Rudolph W. Giuliani and other members of Mr. Trump’s legal team to file lawsuits challenging the vote results in key swing states.” 

  • Trump’s 2020 campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis serves as a special counsel to TMS. According to the Washington Post, Ellis’ name was also included on the “Leadership and Advisory Board” on a now-defunct website once owned by Amistad. The Washington Post wrote that Ellis’ affiliation to the group “suggest[s] a coordinated effort to flood the nation’s courts with repetitive litigation that allows the president to claim the election results remain contested.” 
  • The Trump campaign joined the Amistad Project in some of its lawsuits on a “case-by-case” basis, with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani saying in November 2020, “We are excited to have the Amistad Project as a partner in the fight to ensure the integrity of our elections.” 
  • Other Amistad staffers with ties to Trump’s campaign include Luis Cornelio, a researcher for Trump’s 2020 campaign who began working at Amistad in November 2020.
  • In addition to Trump’s 2020 campaign, TMS is also connected to the Trump network through Sarah Pitlyk, a special counsel to TMS whom he appointed to a federal judgeship in 2019.

Election Conspiracy Theorist Michael Gableman 

Documents obtained by American Oversight show that TMS shared an office with a team of election conspiracy theorists led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, as they conducted a “taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 presidential contest for Assembly Republicans” in Wisconsin. American Oversight noted that this office-sharing arrangement between “a government official and a private organization that has been involved in work related to the official’s work” was cause for concern.

Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson Law Firm

Records show that the law firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson occupies the same office as TMS and Gableman’s team. Erick Kaardal is a special counsel at TMS, and his firm represented TMS and the Amistad Project in lawsuits related to the 2020 election and abortion

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