The Dark Money Group Shaping Appalachia’s Federal Courts


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In part one of this two-part series, Callie and Chuck do a deep dive into the right-wing dark money group called the Federalist Society and how they’ve deliberately helped install radical fringe judges in some of the most powerful courts in Appalachia and across the country. PLUS! Callie and Chuck talk porch sittin’, JD Vance’s campaign finance blunders, and how you can help miners get the Black Lung benefits they so desperately need

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Intro: Porch Sittin’

Chuck Corra: I wanted to talk to you real quick about porch sitting before we get rolling into our meaty stuff like the Federalist Society because it’s, we’re in summer. Are we technically in summer? I don’t know, but we’re good. School’s out for most places, so that’s what I consider summer.

I guess, growing up porches are ripe for sitting around this time of year. And I know you’ve probably got some good memories. I was thinking we could share some to get rolling here. And one thing that came to my mind was when I would go to my grandparents. And they always were, I think if there was an award for porch sitting, they would have a wall in their house just covered in those awards.

They were porch sitting, and Kings and Queens were also legitimate champion mall walkers. So we don’t have to get into that right now. That’s really cool. They were part of the thousand-mile club, grand central mall. Boom. They would always sit on their porch and my grandpa would eat watermelon and spit the seeds out.

Despite the fact he could have gotten a seedless watermelon, he refused to, it was all part of the shtick for him. And then my grandma would always make these beaded ornaments, like Christmas ornaments. She would like to, I don’t know what I don’t know what the actual like. The activity wasn’t cross stitching or anything but beat it.

They should make these beaded ornaments, or she would read trashy romance novels. And I always enjoyed that. 

Callie Pruett: That’s pretty I feel like that gives me a really vivid image of them. I have just an idea of a crotchety old man. I don’t need that watermelon that ain’t got no seeds.


Chuck Corra: So stubborn. I don’t, what is this? This is scientific bullshit. I want the 

Callie Pruett: real stuff. Yeah. Yeah. He was like a non-GMO before anybody even knew what GMO was. 

Chuck Corra: Yes, my grandpa was woke as fuck. Let me tell you 

Callie Pruett: Clearly. I have the vision of your grandma.

I probably, when I am imagining making Christmas ornaments, my mom would crochet those with little teeny tiny thread and then starch them so that they were like, actually they have the structure. So she would make these bells that when they were just like done with the string, they were very like just like a lump of cloth.

And then she would starch them and they’d become this beautiful bell. So I’ve got this vision in my head. I absolutely love it – I love the porch seat too. I have some great memories. That’s actually a requirement for whatever the future holds. That I have the forever house has to have a good porch, but the most vivid memories I have are of some porch sitting and picking and grins with my family playing music.

So most summers we would pull out the instruments and go outside and just play some music with each other. 

Chuck Corra: For the benefit of our listeners. Could you explain what picking grin is for maybe people who don’t know 

Callie Pruett: already? Yeah. So a picking grin is a small, usually small gathering of neighbors and friends where you all come together and just jam.

So it’s not a concert, it’s not a barbecue, it’s a gathering centered on music. And we had a ton of those because my parents are both musicians. And my brother’s a musician and I dabble. So yeah most of it, most of the time we were. Pick and grin and all the time 

Chuck Corra: I love it.

So I think you have such a unique upbringing that respects where you grew up with musicians and you have that ingrained in your own personal life, which is so neat. And I think that’s something that maybe not many people know about you. 

Callie talks “pick ‘n’ grins”

Callie Pruett: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s funny. Cause it feels like that’s what my family is most known for, but not what I’m most known for.

But yeah, my dad and my dad have a Grammy for playing the banjo. And so the fun thing that I like to tell people, cause everyone from who doesn’t, who’s not familiar with. The banjo is one of the most fun instruments in the world. And it’s very loud. It’s a loud instrument and the sound of a banjo in the evening will put me right to sleep because like my dad would just pick from sunup to sundown and it was just like the soundtrack of my entire childhood.

Fiddling around on the banjo. 

Chuck Corra: That is so fucking cool. And so interesting because you don’t think of the banjo as a very relaxing instrument, but I think because of that context, it makes total sense. 

Callie Pruett: Yeah. Yeah. It brings me to that nice, nostalgic feeling. Yeah. 

Chuck Corra: I bet. That’s so cool.

That’s a very Appalachian story. I’ll just, I’m just going to go and say that.

Callie Pruett: And what we do here. And I’m coining it in this episode, even though I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. We politic and grin on this show.

Chuck Corra: I love it. Nailed it. We’re going to have, we’re going to have to trademark that shit because somebody’s going to have to cut somebody going, gonna come after.

Yeah, we’re going to be ready for the powerful legal arm of this operation. We’ll be ready and full force.

Anyway, you know who doesn’t sit on it. Porches, who don’t sit on porches. JD Vance.

Campaign Check-in: JD Vance’s Campaign Finance Oopsie-Doopsie

Chuck Corra: John Dammit “I hate porches” Vance. Look, I’m just, I don’t know it for a fact. I’m just assuming he does not sit on the porch.

He probably thinks that they’re icky and it’s what poor people do according to him. I would 

Callie Pruett: imagine. Yeah. Yeah. It probably doesn’t like wiping off the cobwebs. He’s probably scared of spiders. Oh 

Chuck Corra: my God. He’s no shame if you’re scared of spiders, but JD Vance is probably also scared of his own shadow because he’s probably scared of the person he’s become.

Sorry for that folks. Please continue listening after that. Why are we talking about JD Vance? Our boy has been out of the news lately a little bit, right after he got Trump’s endorsement. He kissed the ring enough to where he’s got saliva all over. It. Got the nomination now where is he to be seen?

Not much, but as you pointed out, he’s gotten in a little bit of trouble. Yeah, not fun. Trouble, not good trouble. Yeah. 

Callie Pruett: He’s the gift that keeps on giving as far as scandal goes, 

Chuck Corra: honestly, him and his pack, which would you care to explain what happened? 

Callie Pruett: Very excited too. According to a new FEC complaint, which is from the federal elections commission, JD Vance knowingly received unlawful support from a super PAC funded by his buddy and billionaire backer, Peter Thiel, for those who don’t know, which I think most people will, but Peter Thiel is a German American billionaire.

Peter Thiel (via Wikimedia Commons)

He co-founded PayPal and he was the first outside investor in Facebook. So super, super wealthy guy. Actually, he was ranked 297th on the Bloomberg billionaires index with an estimated net worth of over $7 billion.

Chuck Corra: So chump change and he was on the board of Facebook until very recently. I think it was actually earlier this year.

One thing I do just wants to point out before getting deep into this. So Peter Thiel’s super PAC funding, JD Vance, Doody, Vance, as you all will probably recall, loves to tweet his disdain for big tech while enjoying the benefit of $10 million from the perfect manifestation of big tech, a billionaire who founded PayPal outside investor in Facebook, who was currently on the board of Facebook when he was putting this money together for old J D didn’t seem to mind that

Callie Pruett: it’s almost like JD Vance is not operating in Good faith. 

Chuck Corra: Get the fuck out. I look there’s this dude totally above the board. 

Vance Campaign squirrels around campaign finance law

Callie Pruett: Totally. Going into this FEC complaint. So it was filed by the campaign legal center and by Citizens United, which are our special interest groups that were against this kind of action. So they filed it last Monday and alleged that the vans campaign and the protect Ohio values super pack coordinated.

Through a secret website, which really wasn’t all that secret. It was a medium page that you just had to have like special search words for it to pop up on that website though. We’re strategic assessments, messaging proposals, and oppositional research, which we’ve talked about here before. It was that same packet, video footage from his ads B roll, all of that internal polling data.

And. The scripts for ads and things like that. So the Vance campaign accepted and used the material for their own benefit. The complaint alleges that helped him land Donald Trump’s endorsement and leapfrog past all of his competitors. Not great over the course of the campaign, the super pack spent more than seven and a half million dollars in direct support advance along with other kinds of expenses that totaled over $620,000 for data management, $750,000 for polling, and 600,000 for consulting.

Chuck Corra: Just absurd, like w which of course like this stuff happens all the time. That spending does happen, but, and it’s important to put a point on this, which is that super PACS are prohibited by law from coordinating directly with the campaign. They can do stuff on their behalf. Like they can do stuff that supports that candidate.

Like they can run an ad. Judy Vince did this, he’s a good guy and this was not endorsed by the candidate, but the candidate cannot directly coordinate with them. That is illegal. And that’s why this complaint is being brought. And just I think with this, it’s hilarious. Cause like in one of our past episodes, I think it was when we had an interest in Clayton on, we talked about.

JD Vance’s opposition research book is being published on a public medium page. So this is the mysterious website that we were talking about. It is wild to me how incompetent or maybe what we, what you’re going to get into. Very competent because as you will point out this sort of skirts campaign, finance law, and the way it 

Callie Pruett: This is my favorite quote from the folks who filed it?

Whereas quote, this abuse is perhaps one of the cleanest, clearest, and most flagrant examples of a candidate and a super PAC skirting eight finances. Think that’s crazy. But so the reason that is it’s unclear whether or not this is legal or not. It’s that campaigns and packs have been trying to figure out ways to coordinate without coordinating for years.

And in that same episode, I talked about red boxing which is the kind of normal way to go about this. So basically you post all the information in a public place and your supporters and folks who are going to spend money for you just know that’s somewhere on your website and they get somebody to search the web.

And try to find your red box. So super packs can raise unlimited amounts of money, which is not like campaigns right now. This year $2,900 is the most that an individual can donate to a campaign. So it raises about a hundred dollars every year. This gives super PACS just an unbelievable financial advantage over campaigns.

They’re talking about the kind of analysis if this is that nobody’s ever tried this before, so this FEC complaint is breaking ground and so even if it’s ultimately found to be within the law, it is to this point. Unheard of 

Chuck Corra: right. And even if it’s found to be against the law, here’s this unfortunate, shot chaser thing about these folks.

And I think some of you may realize this. Campaign finance law is so poorly enforced and it lacks any real legitimate teeth for the most part to where there’s not, there’s probably not going to be any consequences for him or his campaign, unfortunately. And it’s a shame because why have campaign finance laws, if you’re not going to do anything with them and arguably because of Citizens United.

Campaign finance laws are almost a moot point because super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money. When you hear the term dark money. This is exactly what people are talking about. And data Vance will probably not face any consequences. Like he didn’t face any consequences for a lot of his past discretions.

Dark money: the real “culture in crisis”

Callie Pruett: A lot of times they just get sent like a Century or find something like that. But. If that money or that coordination did impact getting that Trump endorsement, getting all of the endorsements that he did get other things. If it impacted his campaign and got him votes, there’s nothing that you can really do about it because the election has already happened.

 I’ve worked in places I’ve filed these FEC complaints before. Many of them are non-legal. There’s no need for an attorney to file one. There are no legal grounds that you have to file an FTC complaint and their investigations can take a long time. They can basically come to nothing sometimes.

There’s nothing to be done. And that’s, what’s really upsetting is that the voters deserve to know where this money and influence is coming from. And these dark money groups like PA and PACS intentionally hide who their donors are to hide their influence over the electorate.

While this is really disappointing that we probably won’t get a resolution to this for a long time. And even if we did get a decision on it, we wouldn’t get action. That would be sufficient enough. It’s just upsetting that there’s still. This level of innovation in trying to break the law, this 

Chuck Corra: And just dark money, in general, is floating all over the place, Democrat and Republican, and even in nonpartisan racists.

For example, when I worked on a public ballot initiative in Nashville, Tennessee, I think it was 2018, yeah, 20 17, 20 18, there was one pack that collected hundreds of thousands of dollars all dark money and was funding the opposition campaign. And they ended up winning it. Wasn’t completely due to that, but that certainly played a huge role.

So it’s a huge problem. I think that what should be done with this information right now is people should be talking about it and people should be putting it out and ads and stuff like that. Just to come, just to start

undermining JD Vance and everything that he says, because he’s a walking contradiction and somebody who’s only suckling up to the teat of the voter, just so that he can gain power and then not care about them.

The Federalist Society in Appalachia

Chuck Corra: This is a two-parter, we’ll just preview that. Now this is a two-parter cause this is a lot of detail, a lot of meat, and I think it’s really important.

So today we’re talking about something that I think gets talked about a lot at the national level, but not with the level of nuance I think is necessary, particularly for Appalachia and its impact on it. 

Callie Pruett: Yeah. I’ve never heard anybody talk about it at this granular level. So I feel like we are definitely contributing to this national narrative and I hope that other regions and other folks like us end up doing the same research that we did for their regions because what we found is really troubling.

Chuck Corra: Absolutely. And so what we’re talking about is the Federalist Society, which we will get into what, who that is, what that is, what the relevance is, but they have a very significant and profound impact on the federal judiciary, meaning your federal court system and an Appalachia. There are several circuit courts that cover the circuit court of appeals that cover Appalachia.

There are several federal district courts. And these judges have a tremendous amount of power and influence to shape public policy, to shape the law, to shape your rights, including your right, to have an abortion, your right to marry the person that you want to, regardless of their sex, gender color, what have you.

These are extremely influential. Individuals and I think have been overlooked for a long time, but now that we’re in focus on this, with the Supreme court and everything, it’s a perfect time to talk about this and why the Federalist Society is a very dangerous organization. Kelly, I was hoping you’ve done a ton of research on this.

 The first episode today is going to go through the background, the Federalist Society, and touch on a little bit of the judges that are in Appalachia. And then in next week’s upset, we’re going to talk specifically about what some of these judges have done to shape. Political policy and legal landscape in Appalachia specifically.

So first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about this spooky, mysterious, strange, bizarre organization.

An introduction to the Federalist Society

Callie Pruett: Happy to! The Federalist Society is a conservative slash libertarian organization that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the United States constitution. I want to stop right there at the beginning so that we can break down what textualist and originalist mean.

 And I know that you have a lot of feelings on textualism, so I would love for you to take that right there and rant away before we get back to the Federalist Society. 

Sidebar: Chuck hates textualism

Chuck Corra: So I actually, hate textualism and originalism. So textualism is a stupid, ridiculous theory of judicial interpretation. Primarily is based on the quote-unquote ordinary meaning of the legal text where no consideration is given to nontextual sources, such as intention, the time when the law was passed and the problem it sought to remedy.

So when you think of nuance, textualism says, fuck that. Yeah, that is what if you take away anything from this episode, textualism equals fucked nuance and this, and I’ll get into I won’t go into a complete screed and tirade as to like why this is bad, but to give you a sense, originalism is the theory of the interpretation of legal.

It includes the constitution and beliefs. And so originalists believe that the constitutional texts ought to be given to the original public meaning that it would have at the time it became law. Like here’s the thing, here’s the problem with all of these. All right. When it says plain meaning or the exact meaning of the text as it reads, and then you have words in the constitution like unreasonable, probable cause, excessive, cruel, and unusual, right?

Which appear several times. Those are all incredibly ambiguous words. And especially with rights and unreasonableness, the interpretation of that has changed dramatically over time. And I don’t know about you. I don’t really want what was considered to be unreasonable in the 17 hundreds. To be interpreted as unreasonable today.

And so to put a button on that you don’t really have plain meaning and words that are not objectively unreasonable is subjective. And here’s the other thing. That’s the last thing I’m just, I’m going to stop. I know this tirade is probably boring, but originalism says that if the words are at all unclear, then judges need to consult historical sources to determine their meaning at the time of ratification.

So by that logic unreasonable in the time that the constitution was written, let’s think about it. Wanting it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them. Slavery. It’s absurd. And I look, I’m going to get criticism on this. I know people are going to be like, who notes the right way to interpret it. This is what I am reading to you exactly.

And now people will try to argue against that. That’s fine. I am not a judge, whatever, but this is my read of it. And this is the accepted understanding from many people of what it is and what it means. And so to illustrate my point, these judges they’re originalists, they’re textualists. They would look at something like the second amendment, a textualist would be like plain meaning, to bear arms, originalist, civilian, to bear arms. Okay. Let me think about this. What wasn’t around at the time, the second amendment was written. AR 15, certainly a Glock pistol. Certainly. How about bullets? Bullets were not around when the secondment was written, where they were using musket balls.

So yes, let’s apply the plain meaning of that to the world we live in today. It drives me up a wall. I just think that it is such an impractical way of looking at the law because so much about what the law so much about what matters to the law is the intention, the time that it was written and the remedy that is sought, or the issue it sought to have a remedy for.

That’s just me. 

Callie Pruett: Yeah, absolutely. So these guys love that though. They love textualism. They love originalism. Yes, it is. So big funders of the Federalist society are people like the Koch brothers and the Mercer family, which are. Enormous conservative donors and some of the most radically conservative folks in the country.

Other big-name conservatives are also in there, but I wanted to highlight those too. So it’s really a fraternity is how they talk about it amongst themselves. It features a student division and a lawyer’s division and a faculty division. And the society currently has chapters at more than 200.

It’s what they list on their website more than 200 American law schools. I wanted to know how many law schools are actually in America. There are only 203 law schools in the country. So there is a presence at every single law school in the country of the Federalist society. Maybe one, yeah, maybe one the lawyers’ division comprises more than 70,000 practicing attorneys in 90 cities.

 And let’s go back to the founding. So the Federalist Society was founded in 1982 by a group of students from Yale, Harvard, and University of Chicago law schools. 

Chuck Corra: Your real salt of the earth working class law schools there 

Callie Pruett: Very down to earth! When you read what they say about themselves, they say that they were founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom and that the separation of governmental powers is central to our constitution.

And that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is and not what it should be, which that’s just a crazy statement for them to make anyway because they definitely are judicial actors. And so we’re going to get more into that and why that is wrong.

Chuck Corra: Let’s just break that down for a second.

 First of all, I did want to point out these: I went into law school at Michigan State. There was a Federalist society there. I did not interact with them because I had no desire to join them. It is basically a young Republicans club for law school. They just don’t want to call themselves that because they want to sound more sophisticated and less partisan than that.

But that’s essentially what it is. And it also acts as a pipeline full. To cultivate and nurture conservative textualist, originalist judges. That’s what it is. It’s essentially a pipeline in law schools. It starts in law school and goes into your practicing attorney, many of them becoming judges.

It’s a whole orchestrated thing.

Callie Pruett: Almost like they’re grooming people.

Chuck Corra: Ooh, whoa. Who’s the groomer now? Okay. Groomer. 

Leonard Leo – the head of the Federalist Society

Callie Pruett: Yeah. So there’s a lot here to unpack, but I want to talk a little bit about the leader of this organization. So it’s run by a man named Leonard, Leo, who is doing research about him.

He’s quite private, but in a way that’s very scary because he started out. Early in his career as an intermediary for Catholics and this group, he himself is Catholic, but in the Bush administration, Leo came in and basically created a conservative rubric for judges and justices, which is the point at which he skyrocketed to the power and prestige that he currently has.

That’s not all that he has done though. He was heavily involved in the campaign against Merrick Garland. During the Obama years, he advised Mitch McConnell on how to obstruct Obama’s judicial nominations, which worked, and paved the way for hundreds of judges to be appointed by Trump. Also connected to yet another weird dark money group called the judicial crisis network, which was founded in 2005 and spent more than $7 million in that fight against Garland.

 They do mostly PR. So basically he manages these campaigns from the beginning. He raises the money, does the activism, and then has a handoff to the rubric and the money that is in the Federalist society itself. Fun fact about the judicial crisis network, which I found in their nine 90.

They actually say they have no employees and no volunteers.

The religious ties that bind

Chuck Corra: Which is total bullshit. So I think something you said is important about this guy that I think we should talk about for a second, which is his Catholicism, and I’m not throwing Catholicism under the bus. I said I’m not Catholic.

We, yeah, we got literal receipts too. And metaphorical wins. So this guy is Uber Catholic. He was on the board of the national Catholic prayer breakfast. He was on the board. Both the Catholic association and its affiliate, the Catholic association foundation, ran organized campaigns against same-sex marriage and were compensated for that work.

He is very religious and that is influencing his role in this. And he wants judges on the federal bench to be like him. And that’s why there are these judges. They will say that the Roe V Wade is settled law and all this shit and that Oberg FL and Lawrence V, Texas, all those are settled law, but then they will legislate from the bench in a different way, meaning that they will make rulings that will go and contradict that you watch they’re getting ready to with Roe.

And so I think, I know this has been a hobby of mine for a while, but religion plays so much of a part in this and in a very, I think cynical way.

The advocacy group that claims its not an advocacy group

Callie Pruett: Absolutely. I do think that’s really important.

He’s not just involved with this group, the Federalist society. In conjunction with his involvement in the Federalist society. He’s been involved in other activist groups, including religious ones, and from 2014 to 2017, which are the best numbers that I could find, he helped to raise more than $250 million from multiple organizations that were not the Federalist society in an effort to do this same work and two quarter billion.

So his influence, needless to say, is strong. Actually, in 2017, Jeffrey Toobin wrote that Leo was, quote, responsible to a considerable extent for one-third of the justices on the Supreme court, which was in 2017. We now know that it has grown since 2017.

 And he is directly responsible for. Almost half of the court at this point, 

Callie Pruett: That is the majority five, four. That is the majority of the Supreme court that he is responsible for. So it’s unreal. The level of influence that this man has. In fact, I was listening to some of my research and listening some Interviews about him and some stories that are urban legends.

He actually had invited the Oklahoma attorney general. This was several years ago at a dinner party at his house. And the attorney general said that he went and it was in a basement and it was just like, he shows up and in the basement is Alito and Thomas and they’re just hanging out.

Chuck Corra: I thought this was going to be the Coke orgy that Madison Cawthorn was talking about. 

Callie Pruett: Haha, No, but like this kind of pull, like when on a Friday night you just have somebody invited him up and he’s Hey, do you want to have dinner with two Supreme court justices that I didn’t even tell you about? This is the kind of pull that this man has.

While the Federalist society claims to not be an advocacy group, they’re registered as a 501(c)(3), which is, they say that is a non-profit status, meaning that they are not an advocacy group. The Federalist Society has not only held explicit ideological goals since its infancy but it’s sought to apply those same ideological goals to legal policy and political issues through the groups, round tables, symposiums and conferences, and meetings going into the weeds into this.

You’re maybe wondering why this is important. It comes down to this, and this is what we’re going to be talking about is the influence that the Federalist Society has on judges, choosing judges, getting them into the places of power, and then controlling them from the bench. The code of conduct for United States Judges is a set of guidelines.

That’s administered, it’s administered by federal judiciaries. The conference that they have was revised recently to bar sitting, federal judges from participating in conferences and seminars, sponsored by groups who generally are viewed by the public as having adopted a consistent political or ideological point of view equivalent to the type of partisanship often found in political organizations.

And buddy, let me tell you about the Federalist society. An activist agenda. Oh yeah. Period. And now based on some great investigative reporting, we know that in 1984, there was a grant proposal and a cover letter that was written by one of the founders of the Federalist Society. That gives us evidence that the Federalist society in contradiction to what they say, they quote, advocate for specific outcomes on legal and political issues in their own words.

Chuck Corra: It is wild to me that this organization has been able to cultivate so much power in influence, and it’s something that has largely been ignored, especially by the left.

Literally decades to their, to our peril, to our demise.  

Callie Pruett: This is the crux of our argument here, given the importance and the status of the Federalist Society to current judges who are on the courts right now, and their ability to long-term reshape the law, barring them from the societies events could hamper its continued ability to exert the political influence that is.

Impressively built over the decades. So all of this to say, simply put when the Federalist society was describing its mission in private to a politically sympathetic donor, it let drop the group public facing fiction that it is merely a debating society for the organic development of ideas.

It is not that it is an activist group that is hell-bent on putting people who fall in line with their agenda on the bench. And in positions of power.

Chuck Corra: This group, I think, is single-handedly responsible for the judiciary, no longer being an impartial branch of government. I think it’s completely safe to say.

Callie Pruett: I 100% agree. It’s been slow corrosion of public faith and trust in the judiciary. And the Federalist society is at the center of that. 

Chuck Corra: It’s something where it’s like, you wish that more people particularly like more people on the left paid attention to this, like years ago when it mattered.

And I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know what they were doing, but it was coordinated. It’s a coordinated thing. Like how this has been done at the district court level, at the circuit court level, and at the Supreme court level. It was a calculated craven political play for power and you see it playing out day after day.

Roe V. Wade is going to be the icing on that cake.  

Chuck Corra: And Roe v. Wade is just the shiny object, not to like under-mind or downplay. It was obviously extremely important, but there are so many other ones that people don’t know about that are destructive on their own.

 And it’s happening literally every day. You have hundreds of judges on federal district and circuit courts that are making decisions based on ideology, not an interpretation of the law. It’s scary. 

Callie Pruett: It’s really scary. And this is it. It has broader implications, not just politically thinking about how.

Sentencing goes in so many federal cases and how people who have these hold, these ideological beliefs end up sentencing folks. This is a very anti-drug group. And so they are four very harsh sentences for nonviolent offenders. They are not for any sort of legalization they’re pro-death penalty.

 These are things that do impact the broader scope of maybe not the most top-of-mind political agenda items like row, but they’re also influencing the individual lives of people all over the country all the time. And they’re also. They’re advocating for people be in, in positions of power and trust who are not qualified to be in those positions of power and trust.

There are many nominees that the American bar association has said are unqualified to serve on the federal bench, who the Federalist society continues to back. And so those kinds of slight chipping away at the faith and trust of the public in the judiciary is something that I think has over the years, led us to the place where we are now in which we have a public who believes the court to be politically motivated instead of motivated by the rule of law.

Long-term that is a huge issue that people like us are going to have to grapple with that we have to start thinking about now. And that’s one of the reasons that we really wanted to talk about this today. 

A preview for next week: the Federalist Society judges in Appalachia

Chuck Corra: Absolutely. And I think to tie things into Appalachia a little bit before getting off this topic, and again, next week, we’re going to be diving into how this justice or how these judges have changed the landscape of Appalachia.

So buckle up for that. But I did want to point out, that you mentioned that a lot of these judges are. Print people. The American bar association has said that they’re not qualified, but that somehow got onto these courts anyway, because there’s remarkably not a lot. That’s required to be an actual federal judge, which is wild to me.

So let’s take the example of a guy named John K. Bush, for example, of the United States court of appeals for the sixth circuit, which, by the way, covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, all four of those states. So a humongous portion of Appalachia and back John K. Bush, his duty station I think, is what they call it or duty post or whatever.

It’s a weird term because he’s based out of Louisville, Kentucky. So people who file. Claims that get to the circuit court level and Kentucky are probably getting their cases heard before this John K. Bush guy. First of all, he was never a judge before being appointed to the sixth circuit, which is a reminder one step below the United States Supreme court.

From a process standpoint, he was just a partner at a law firm and a member of the Federalist Society. Of course, this guy is wild. I’m really into blogs. Kelly did you know that he was really into, he was really into blogging and on the, I had no idea now, early two thousand, you got really big into blogs.

Look, I was a blog guy to time’s fine, but I didn’t blog about comparing abortion to slavery who did is John K. Bush. Oh, my God. He said, and a 2008 blog post entitled the legacy from Dr. King’s dream. That liberals ignore. So just buckle the fuck up for this holy shit. He and this guy are in and that oversees a huge part of Appalachia.

 He wrote a quote, that the two greatest tragedies in our country, slavery, and abortion relied on similar reasoning and activist judges at the U S Supreme court first and Dred Scott and later in Roe. So he’s trying to appropriate the civil rights legacy of MLK to justify being against abortion.


Callie Pruett: This it’s totally shit that I had not heard. That was a hell of a curve ball. Oh, wow. Yeah, but this is great. It’s a great illustrative point of why this is so important. 

Chuck Corra: Oh, and let me just say, we’re, I’m only scratching the surface on this guy. I do want to point out a couple more things real quick.

 Cause I think you’ll get a kick out of one of these very insensitive towards LGBT community of course. Cause I think it had to be, I think that was probably a qualifier for getting nominated by Trump. I would imagine. Let’s see here responding to the state department’s announcement that it would start asking applications to list mother or parent one and father or parent to rather than simply mother and father Bush wrote it’s just like the government to decide it needs to decide.

It needs to decide something like which parent is number one or two. When that happens, both parents are subservient to the nanny state. And then in 2005, he chose to use the F word and not fuck. Cause we don’t mind saying fuck, this is the “f word” that is a slur for gay people. Which I don’t want to say. In a speech about the city of Louisville, he delivered at a private club and according to the text of the speech he sent to the Senate judiciary committee, he said the following quote, Hunter Thompson wrote the Kentucky Derby is decadent and to pray, but his target was the city, not the horse race.

I know this Derby crowd, a guy named Jimbo from Houston confided to a hunter, over a glass of devil old Fritz at the airport. I come here every year. And let me tell you one thing I’ve learned, there’s no town to be giving people the impression. You’re some kind of a,

Callie Pruett: Oh my God. 

Chuck Corra: I. What a guy. There you go, Louisville sadly at the deal with this prick 

Callie Pruett: That is wild. 

Chuck Corra: Oh, and he’s a birther too. Sorry. He’s an Obama birther. Of 

Callie Pruett: course. I, you have to be, you say all of that bullshit while. Yeah. We’ve been looking at this. I’ve been looking at the history of this for the last couple of days.

You’ve been looking at the judges and I. It’s just staggering. The amount of influence that people like this guy who say things like that have over, over everyday life for so many of us, it’s really upsetting to even think about it’s 

Chuck Corra: just w and these people are the ones that fly under the radar and the confirmation process because there are so many hearings on judges.

So just so many I think Trump had like over a hundred. I want to say that they just don’t get a lot of time. Now, this guy got a little bit more attention. Cause he’s fucking asshole, but still this is these are people who are making laws for you. If you’re listing, especially in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, or Michigan, this guy’s making laws for you every 

Callie Pruett: day.

And there are unfortunately dozens other like him, dozens of others like him, sorry, 

Chuck Corra: there are probably hundreds. My God and we don’t even get to talk about state courts like there wind down from that a little bit. Always say, yeah, we’re going to put a button on that for today. And like I said, next week, look out because we’re going to deep dive in Appalachia with these people.

Under-the-Radar in Appalachia: Black Lung Resurgence

Black lung is not great. I think we all agree on that. Yes. It’s a disease like this, there’s this under the radar, and Appalachia is one of our favorite segments, or we talk about something that is probably not being talked about enough, and Appalachia, and we want you to know about it.

And oftentimes such as today, we give you an action item for what you can do about it. So not just listening to us talk, you can actually do something. So Kelly, black lung and the words of the well-read people don’t hit it is a problem and something that I think people don’t realize it’s still around and extremely prevalent.

A lot of people think it’s an antiquated disease that doesn’t even exist anymore and could not be further from the truth. Yeah. 

Callie Pruett: I am here to tell you that there has been a massive rise in advanced cases of black lung. And unfortunately, it’s not just in older miners, it’s in younger ones as well.

It’s really troubling. And so we’re going to dive into that. 

Chuck Corra: We are so black lung is bad. Of course, minors. Yeah, we are. So yes, black lung is a terrible disease and traditionally coal miners would get black lung from prolonged exposure and inhalation of coal dust from working in the mines. But as you are going to tell our wonderful listeners that is not necessarily the case with this resurgence.

Callie Pruett: So this resurgence is actually being driven by silica dust. In addition to regular coal dust, silica is highly toxic and exposure contributes to black lung, but we haven’t known exactly why workers were suddenly experiencing more disease and more severe forms of it. But now we have a better idea of that.

So this is likely due to changes in mining technology. Mechanized coal extraction devices were introduced in the 1950s. So this is after folks who were born in 1930 and beyond would have begun their careers. So silica is a mineral found in rock and the newer technology allows for more mining in the rock that is above and below coal seams.

 And so it’s all about profits. You can dig into more. Yes, always. And so it means that you’re cutting through more rock, which means more silica exposure. In fact, the guy who did the research on this said our findings underscore the importance of controlling workplace silica exposure to prevent the disabling and untreatable adverse health effects afflicting us coal miners.

 This is a widespread problem at this point. 

Chuck Corra: It’s super interesting. It’s terrible, obviously. It’s interesting that this is a new development and of course, it’s always about money. That’s an important context for all of the cold companies out there. Aren’t doing great right now. In fact, a fun, not so fun fact, but one that I like to point out to people is that I think more of the major coal companies went bankrupt under Donald Trump than I believe any other president, this guy who would be the champion of coal.

 So coal companies are going bankrupt because there are cheaper, easier ways of getting energy and more efficient ways. Now the one type of coal that is still very profitable is metallurgical coal. That’s coking coal used to make steel. This is not, I don’t believe this is the same type, but, and so with that context, you can see, okay, now they’re trying different methods to make more money.

And it is not surprising that the coal companies probably don’t care about the silica and it’s highly toxic. Yeah. 

Callie Pruett: Color me shocked that I’m referencing it. First direct evidence that silica is a causative agent behind increasing incidences of black lung. This is new. These are new findings.

These are new findings. His team actually looked at the link between silica exposure and severe black lung disease in contemporary minors. Contemporary miners had significantly higher rates of silica-type disease compared with their historical counterparts. That’s 57% of men of contemporary minors versus 18% of historic minors.

In contrast, historical miners were a significantly higher proportion of both coal types. So 50% to 17% in the modern day. So they had more of the coal dust type and mixed types. Mineral dust is called an alveolar alar pro to gnosis, which is, I think a form of this silica-based black lung disease, 70% of contemporary minors, as opposed to 37% in the history in historical numbers.

And then the percentage and concentration of silica particles were significantly greater in contemporary minors. So the percentage is 26 to seven to 18% and the concentration is 4.7 versus 2.6 billion particles per cubic centimeter. So this is way, way different than what folks had previously thought had previously understood.

And these results are incredibly meaningful. Whatever action. We’re going to take next in dealing with the problems that are caused by black 

Chuck Corra: lung. So all of this information, it’s very harrowing. It’s terrible. Let’s check in on our friends in Congress to see if they’re doing anything about it. So it’s important to note, that there is a black lung disability trust blend that is used for the purposes of helping miners and paying.

I believe in paying, like helping pay for their medical bills and their treatment for black lung. And it’s been around for a while. Shocker, it’s in debt and it’s funded by an excise tax that expired at the end of last year. And has Congress done anything about it? Kelly the people that proclaim to be friends of coal and supporting the working class.

Callie Pruett: I’m so glad that you asked the answer currently is that Republicans have done nothing on it, but there have been two bills that are corresponding bills. One in the house, and one in the Senate that has been introduced by Democrats to make sure that the black lung disability trust fund is fully funded again.

 So there, they exist now. They are, it’s literally called the black lung benefits, disability trust fund solvency act. And we’re going to do something about this. We think this is too important of an issue too, pressing of an issue to allow this trust fund to lapse into non-existence. And so with the help of our friends at Appalachians for Appalachia, we’ve put together a letter that you can send to your members of Congress that would ask them to ensure that they pass that bill in both the house and Senate and put it on the president’s desk this year.

We want to see this happen and we know you want to see it happen because we want to take care of people who are suffering from this disease. It is a truly horrific disease and it’s already been proven so many times over. We take the resources out of the places where they are in our minds and we put them everywhere.

But with those miners that dig the coal. And so we think it’s high time that they ensure that these folks can have medical access to medical 

Chuck Corra: care. Absolutely. Because again first of all, coal mining, one of the hardest jobs in the country, period, hard stop. One of the most, I think, misunderstood and neglected jobs in this country.

And we all of course want to work towards a clean energy future on this show. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not at the expense of the miners currently working and something about this that’s important. This disability trust fund is essentially a form of workers’ compensation. It’s insurance, for example, to provide medical benefits for people who were hurt on the job or who were harmed on the job, you should not be, you should not have to go into work every day and be constantly harmed by that.

And that is a promise that we have typically made in this country. That’s why things like workers’ compensation exist and why people Sue for it. And this is another example of that because the black lung is a very specific illness and specific ailment that affects I believe, and folks correct me if I’m wrong, just coal miners.

It is a disease specific to that line of work, which is why there is a disability trust fund that is specific to that line of work. And to me, this is a no-brainer that it has to be fully funded. And honestly, more realistically, these coal companies should be found negligent of putting their workers in danger.

Like th that’s a whole other can of worms to this, but at the bare minimum, this trust fund should exist. So to finance the medical care and compensation, these people need to live and live healthy lives. This is just like black lung ruins your life. And it’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough.

And the fact that they have slept on this is absurd and it’s inexcusable, and they need to do something about it because if we care about the miners, which we do when I say we as a collective if we care about coal miners and we need to be doing everything we can to help. Because these politicians will line up beside them, put it on, put on the miner’s helmet, and say that they support coal miners.

And then don’t do a goddamn thing about it like this right here. Yeah. 

Callie Pruett: Yeah. And yes. And building on exactly what you said. I want to read a quote from Senator Casey of Pennsylvania. Who is one of the lead co-sponsors on the Senate side, he said, coal miners have kept the lights on in this country for decades and in doing so many, have risked their lives.

And now have life-threatening health complications. We owe it to coal miners suffering from black lung disease to keep our promise and ensure they’re taken care of. This legislation would ensure the continuity of the trust fund, especially given the resurgence of black lung disease and would provide health and disability benefits.

Many coal miners need it. I will keep fighting to make sure that Congress keeps its promise to take care of our miners. And just to name off the people who are actually doing something about this, I would like to give a shout-out to Senator Casey, to SenatorManchin, Senator Brown, Senator Kaine, and Senator Warner.

So Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, and Virginia. That is who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate. And that is that. Those are the folks who are really invested in doing something about this. As far as the house side it was introduced by the help committee, health education, labor, and pensions committee, chairman Bobby Scott from Virginia, and the subcommittee on workforce protections, chairwoman Alma Adams from North Carolina.

So Appalachians are leading this fight and it is up to us. It’s up to us to make sure that we can carry this 

Chuck Corra: through. And this is something I’ll say. Yeah. And I’m glad that you mentioned that because look, we should vote for Joe Manchin a lot and he deserves it. He deserves it, but he was the lead sponsor on this.

And it’s literally you can go on and look, the bill literally strikes. Date from the IRS internal revenue code and changes it to a date 10 years down the road. That’s all it does to help finance it. And so this is one of those issues where if you call your member, they will listen to you because it is a very specific issue.

It’s not like Roe V. Wade, where they’re getting dozens and dozens and dozens of calls every single day. They will listen to you about this. So if you have such fear in Callie, feel free to correct me because you have a lot more experience in this than I do. If your Senator is a Republican, call them and ask them, to support this.

If there is democratic support who is supporting it, call them and thank them. I know it sounds shitty and they all have an ego, but that is helpful. They want to hear that they’re doing a good job. And if you got, 

Callie Pruett: And also if you call and they haven’t heard about this in a while, and you say, thank you for doing this, it puts it back at the top of the staff to do.

And so thanking them is not just thanking them. It’s also making sure that it stays on their radar. 

Chuck Corra: Yes. Brilliant point and worth noting, because this was originally introduced in September of 2021. So it’s been shit like nine months. So it’s probably not on their radar right now. And that’s a huge problem because it ran out last year.

 Yeah, I’m really glad that we did this because it’s super important that I am going to harp on my members to sit. And if he remembers the Democrats and they’re not on board, tell them to get the fuck on board. 

Callie Pruett: Yeah, absolutely. And maybe we’ll post another video of me calling all of my reps so that you guys can have a good idea of what to say on the phone.

Chuck Corra: Shelley Moore Capito yeah. Yeah. She, I’m sure that she touted her endorsements from coal organizations or something, so yeah. Get her on anyway. Thank you. Yeah. Check that. I was coming in the show notes, the action alert it’ll, pre-populate an email, is that right? And you can send it to your member and do that.

Dammit. Let’s put our money where our mouths are. With that being said, thank you all so much for listening to this show. We hope you enjoyed it and stick back next week because what part two of this. It’s going 

Callie Pruett: to have a good time. We’re actually going to be closing out the show today, too, with one of our queer joy stories for pride month.

I’m really excited about it. It’s a great one. And I hope that you all enjoy it. Please send them in about a minute and 30 seconds. Tell us your story of queer joy and Appalachia as we celebrate pride months together. 

Chuck Corra: Yes, absolutely. Send it to and we’ll be happy to share it.

None of the views expressed on this show are a reflection of the views of either Chuck or Callie’s employers.

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