Talk:Pacific Legal Foundation

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Established in 1973, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is a Sacramento, California-based public interest law firm. The Washington Post has described PLF as "oldest and perhaps most influential of the conservative public interest law firms."[1]

PLF describes itself as "devoted to a vision of individual freedom, responsible government, and color-blind justice."[2] It has been involved in a number of Supreme Court cases, including suits related to affirmative action, public unions, environmental protection regulations, and the Voting Rights Act.[3]

The Center for Media and Democracy has written that PLF

"sees itself as a 'conservative counterpart to the American Civil Liberties Union.' Whereas the ACLU focuses on defending freedom of speech and expression, the PLF--funded by right-wing mainstays such as the John M. Olin Foundation and the Castle Rock Foundation--specializes in lawsuits that defend landowners against environmental regulations."[4]

The organization has been partially funded by a range of corporations and conservative foundations, including the Scaife Family Foundations, the Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation, ExxonMobil and the Koch family's Claude R. Lambe Foundation.[5]

Koch Wiki

Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.

Ties to the Koch Brothers

Organizations with ties to the Koch brothers have given donations to PLF, including $73,000 from Donors Capital Fund between 2003 and 2012, $6,600 from DonorsTrust between 2004 and 2010, and $10,000 from the Koch family's Claude R. Lambe Foundation in 1998.


The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) was established in 1973 by several members of then-California Governor Ronald Reagan's staff.[6]

The Washington Post has written that contributions from Richard Scaife "constituted at least half the group's budget in its early years."[1] Greenpeace reports that "PLF's initial financial support came from members of the California Chamber of Commerce and J. Simon Fluor" and describes PLF as "Anti-environmental from the start."[7]

Expansion to Washington, DC

In June 2014, PLF opened an office in Washington, DC in order "to expand its congressional and media outreach," particularly on issues relate to health care legislation, according to the Sacramento Business Journal. At its opening, the DC office was headed by Todd Gaziano, formerly of the Heritage Foundation.[8]


According to its website, PLF focuses on three major goals: "to defend the fundamental human right of private property; to promote sensible environmental policies that respect individual freedom and put people first; and to create a nation in which people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin."[2]

Listed below are a few of the major cases in which PLF has been involved.[9]

Against Public Sector Unions

Harris v. Quinn (2014)

PLF, along with the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn. In the case, home health aides represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation argued that they could not "be compelled to pay dues to a union they don’t wish to join." The aides worked in Illinois, which as of June 2014 was "one of 26 states that require public sector workers to pay dues to the unions that negotiate their contracts and represent them in grievances." [10]

As reported by Mother Jones, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in favor of the plaintiffs on June 30, 2014, in which "the court's five conservative justices ruled that home-care workers in Illinois—such as the lead plaintiff, Pam Harris—cannot be forced to pay dues to a union if they're not union members because they are not full-fledged public employees like cops, firefighters, and teachers."[11] As Politico noted, even though the decision did not strike down state laws requiring public sector works to pay union dues, the decision "sharply criticized" the precedent allowing for such dues to be compelled by the state.[10]

Treating the case as a First Amendment issue, PLF had argued that "Compelling personal care providers to be deemed public employees for the purpose of being represented by a union violates the First Amendment guarantee that Americans cannot be compelled to speak or associate, or petition the government, against their wishes."[12]

Undermining Environmental Protections

Pacific Legal Foundation v. EPA (2013)

In Pacific Legal Foundation v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, PLF filed a petition to require the EPA to reopen the public comment period for its determination that " carbon dioxide and related substances pose a danger to human health and welfare."[13][14] This petition was denied on October 15, 2013.[13]

Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center (2012)

In 2006, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed a case against Oregon's Department of Forestry and four logging companies claiming that "Clean Water Act "point source" permits should be required for active logging roads, just like they are for factories and feedlots, if the roads divert sediment-laden water into streams."[15] In 2013, the Supreme Court "reversed a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said active logging roads need Clean Water Act permits."[16]

PLF filed a brief in support of the defendants claiming that there would be "severe negative consequences for timber harvesting and the economy [...] if EPA is forced to regulate forest road runoff as a discharge of pollution under the Clean Water Act."[17]

Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2012)

PLF represented the plaintiffs in this case, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who had planned to construct a home in the Idaho panhandle when the EPA determined that their land was a wetland and ordered them to stop construction or risk fines of up to $75,000 a day.[18] According to CNN, the case dealt with "whether the Sacketts ha[d] a right to have a "timely and meaningful" hearing before a court to challenge a Clean Water Act wetlands-restoration order of a federal agency."[19] As reported by the New York Times, the Supreme Court came to a unanimous decision, ruling that the Sacketts "had the right to file an immediate court challenge" to the EPA's determination."[18]

According to the New York Times, the case "drew support from groups including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute."[18]

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

In this case, land developer Coy Koontz planned to develop property in the Florida wetlands and applied for a permit with the St. Johns River Water Management District, which rejected his proposal, asking that he either provide a larger conservation easement or "hire contractors to make improvements to separate land owned by the District."[20] Koontz "sued the St. Johns River Water Management District when it suggested he could obtain a permit to fill the wetlands if he paid to have wetlands restored elsewhere in Orange County."[21]

As PLF describes the case, "Koontz argued that the off-site mitigation requirement violated" existing court decisions. The circuit court, agreeing with this argument, held "that the requirement bore no connection to the project’s alleged impacts on the riparian habitat protection zone. The court awarded Koontz compensation for a temporary taking."[22] Reversing a decision by the Florida Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court also ruled that Koontz "was unfairly required to compensate for the proposed destruction of some wetlands on his land nearly two decades ago," according to the Orlando Sentinel.[21] The Sentinel quoted PLF lawyer Paul J. Beard II saying,

""Today's ruling says the Fifth Amendment protects landowners from government extortion, whether the extortion is for money or any other form of property," said lawyer Paul J. Beard II, of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which handled the Supreme Court case on behalf of Koontz."[21]

Opposing Affirmative Action

Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas

In Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas, the plaintiff, a white student who applied to the University of Texas at Austin but was rejected, argued "that she had been a victim of racial discrimination because minority students with less impressive credentials than hers had been admitted."[23] According to the New York Times, a 7-1 decision issued by the Supreme Court in June 2013 did not challenge the constitutionality of UT's program of "holistic" evaluation of candidates, which could include considerations related to race and ethnicity. But the decision "ordered an appeals court to reconsider the case under a demanding standard that appears to jeopardize the program."[24] Politico reported that in the decision, "Justice Anthony Kennedy faulted lower courts for failing to insist that the university demonstrate that the program was “narrowly tailored” to meet its goals."[25]

PLF filed a brief in the case, arguing that "in order to survive strict scrutiny analysis, race-conscious undergraduate admissions policies must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest."[26]

Opposing the Voting Rights Act

Shelby v. Holder

In Shelby County v. Eric H. Holder, the Supreme Court " effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval," as reported by the New York Times.[27] The Court ruled unconstitutional Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which "determined which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made minor changes to voting procedures, like moving a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts."[27]

The PLF had filed an amicus brief along with the Center for Equal Opportunity and Project 21 in support of Shelby County and focusing on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which describes the preclearance requirement. PLF argued "that Section 5 is unconstitutional, because it is no longer a legal means of enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment."[28]


PLF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations to which are tax deductible. According to PLF's website, "In the past, up to 49 percent of PLF's contributions came from individuals. Another 27 percent was raised through foundations, and 24 percent coming from businesses and other organizations." The page does not specify the current distribution of funding sources.[2]

While PLF does not disclose its donors, data collected by Media Matters shows that PLF has received significant funding from a number of conservative foundations as well as corporate donors. The top ten funders, based on data available in June 2014, were:[5]

PLF also received donations totaling $170,000 from ExxonMobil between 2001 and 2012.[29]

Organizations with links to the Koch brothers have given donations to PLF, including $73,000 from Donors Capital Fund between 2003 and 2012, $6,600 from DonorsTrust between 2004 and 2010, and $10,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation in 1998.


As of June 2014:[30]


Principal Attorneys

Other Senior Staff



  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert G. Kaiser and Ira Chinoy, "Scaife: Funding Father of the Right, Washington Post, May 2, 1999. Accessed June 26, 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Pacific Legal Foundation, About, organizational website, accessed June 26, 2014.
  3. Pacific Legal Foundation, PLF in the Supreme Court, organizational website, accessed June 26, 2014.
  4. Sheldon Rampton, "Fish Out of Water: Behind the Wise Use Movement's Victory in Klamath," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, 2003. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Media Matters, Top Supporters of Pacific Legal Foundation, accessed June 26, 2014.
  6. Pacific Legal Foundation, Our History, organizational website, accessed June 26, 2014.
  7. Greenpeace, Pacific Legal Foundation, factsheet, accessed June 26, 2014.
  8. Allen Young, "​Pacific Legal Foundation opens D.C. office," Sacramento Business Journal, June 5, 2014. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  9. Pacific Legal Foundation, Supreme Court, organizational website, accessed June 30, 2014.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Stephanie Simon, "Harris v. Quinn ruling: Unions hit, but not fatally, by SCOTUS," Politico, June 30, 2014. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  11. Andy Kroll, "Supreme Court Delivers a Hit—But Not a "Kill Shot"—to Public-Employee Unions," Mother Jones, June 30, 2014. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  12. Pacific Legal Center, "Personal care providers can’t be conscripted into union representation", case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  13. 13.0 13.1 SCOTUSBlog, Pacific Legal Foundation v. Environmental Protection Agency, case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  14. Pacific Legal Foundation, "PLF challenges EPA's sweeping global warming ruling," case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  15. Scott Learn, "Oregon logging road pollution case heads to U.S. Supreme Court," The Oregonian, March 20, 2013
  16. Scott Learn, "Timber industry celebrates Supreme Court decision on logging roads (update)," The Oregonian, March 20, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  17. Pacific Legal Foundation, "Fighting unnecessary regulatory restrictions on forest road maintenance," case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Felicity Barringer, "Justices Allow Challenge to E.P.A. Control of Wetlands," New York Times, March 22, 2012. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  19. Bill Mears, "'Little guy' wins high court fight over property rights," CNN, March 21, 2012. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  20. Tejinder Singh, "Opinion recap: Broadening property owners’ right to sue," SCOTUSBlog, July 1, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Kevin Spear, "U.S. Supreme Court sides with Orange County landowner in property-rights case," Orlando Sentinel, June 25, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  22. Pacific Legal Foundation, "There’s no “off site” exception to Fifth Amendment’s takings clause," case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  23. Amy Howe, "Finally! The Fisher decision in Plain English," SCOTUSBlog, June 24, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  24. Adam Liptak, "Justices Step Up Scrutiny of Race in College Entry," New York Times, June 24, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  25. Josh Gerstein, "SCOTUS passes on big affirmative action decision," Politico, June 24, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  26. Pacific Legal Foundation, "University of Texas is flouting the Constitution with race-based admissions," case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Adam Liptak, "Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act," New York Times, June 25, 2013. Accessed June 30, 2014.
  28. Pacific Legal Foundation, "Feds should no longer be micro-managing local political procedures," case description, accessed June 30, 2014.
  29. Media Matters, Pacific Legal Foundation, grants from ExxonMobil report, accessed June 30 2014.
  30. Pacific Legal Foundation, Staff, organizational website, accessed June 26, 2014.

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