by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The indictment of former president Donald Trump—unprecedented in U.S. history and based on what many experts say are flimsy foundations—has stroked fresh fears about the politicization of the justice system. But it has also highlighted a trend that began long before Trump’s arraignment: the politicization of top-flight law firms.
Todd Blanche, a longtime partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft, resigned last week from the elite firm to represent Trump, who was indicted on April 4 by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg (D.). Though Cadwalader has been tight-lipped about the circumstances of Blanche’s departure, Blanche himself said something interesting. “Obviously,” his parting email indicated, “doing this as a partner at Cadwalader was not an option, so I have had to make the difficult choice to leave the firm.” Within hours, Cadwalader had scrubbed Blanche’s bio from the firm’s website. Neither Blanche nor Cadwalader responded to requests for comment.
The resignation, and the ultimatum from Cadwalader that it implied, was not a one-off. Like their corporate clients, top law firms have taken a sharp left turn over the past decade, joining groups like the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance and even hosting drag queens for Pride Month. That flight from the political center, lawyers and legal commentators say, has made “Big Law” much less willing to take conservative clients—especially when their last name is Trump.
“Trump is toxic for most big firms,” said Adam Mortara, a former partner at Bartlit Beck who served as the lead trial lawyer for the plaintiffs in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the Supreme Court case that could outlaw affirmative action. “Lawyers can’t get him or other right-wing clients past their partners.”
Top attorneys now face a choice between cushy partnerships and conservative clients, whom white-shoe law firms won’t represent. That has in turn fueled an imbalance of power within the legal system, as America’s biggest and best-heeled firms increasingly do the bidding of one political party.