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Christian Conservative had a secret role in the bid to block the election result


WASHINGTON — One of the country’s most prominent religious conservative lawyers played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in the lawsuit filed by Republican attorneys general in December in a last-ditch effort to undo President Biden’s election, documents show .

The attorney, Michael P. Farris, is the chief executive of a group known as Alliance Defending Freedom, which is active in the fight against abortion and gay rights. He circulated a detailed draft of the lawsuit that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton eventually brought against states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin in an effort to help President Donald J. Trump stay in office.

Mr Paxton filed the lawsuit on December 7, after making some changes but circulating large portions of the design through Mr. Farris.

Another 17 Republican attorneys general filed a petition with the Supreme Court in support of Mr Paxton’s lawsuit. Within four days, the case was dismissed by the court.

But Mr Farris’s role highlighted how religious conservatives supported Mr Trump’s failed attempts to retain power by blocking the certification of Mr Biden’s victory.

“Here is a much-improved version of the complaint,” wrote Mr. Farris on Nov. 30 in an email to the deputy chief of attorney general in South Carolina, one of several Republicans Mr. Farris and a team of other conservative lawyers. trying to convince them to sue. “I will call you and inform you about the alternatives.”

The email, obtained via an open-record request by The New York Times and researchers at Mount Holyoke College, contained a detailed 42-page legal complaint accusing states of violating the Constitution through the rules regarding absenteeism. ballot papers and other election details without formal approval from state legislatures.

The complaint sent by Mr. Farris had conveniently left the identification of the Republican Attorney General’s office, which would eventually file the lawsuit blank, written instead “000 Street Ave, Capitol City, ST 00000, (111) 222-3333,, counsel.”

Mr. Farris’s involvement in the effort, which has not been previously reported, came as part of broad pressure from religious conservatives to get Mr. Trump re-elected. Their role intensified after the pandemic hit in early 2020 and states began to relax absentee voting rules, which the religious conservatives feared would lead to an increase in liberal voter participation.

Mr. Farris made a name for himself in the 1980s as the founder of a legal group that successfully pushed states across the country to homeschool children, based on the belief that only through homeschooling, away from secular influences in public schools, would a broad Christian movement could emerge in the United States.

At the Alliance Defending Freedom, Mr. Farris contributed to the organization’s campaign against abortion and gay rights, including the lawsuit filed by Mr. Farris who wanted to defend the right of a Colorado confectioner to refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, a case that went to the Supreme Court.

Mr Farris turned down a request for an interview, but in an email confirmed his role in the post-election efforts and said his involvement was not part of his work with the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a non-profit organization that prohibited by federal law from playing any part in a political campaign.

“While it is true that I personally care about this issue, it is not something ADF is working on in any capacity,” he wrote. “As President and CEO, my job is to focus on ADF’s mission, which is to protect the God-given freedoms of Americans. I have nothing to say about the details of the way forward in terms of electoral integrity, other than the hope that all Americans take the matter seriously.”

A spokesman for Mr Paxton did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Farris had not been a fan of Mr. Trump before his election and in 2016 publicly urged other conservative Christians to vote for another Republican candidate.

“His candidacy is the antithesis of everything we wanted to achieve,” Mr Farris wrote in a June 2016 Washington Post op-ed column.

But Mr. Farris and other religious conservatives later told their followers that Mr. Trump had proved them wrong with his appointments of conservative judges, his efforts to block federal spending on abortions, and his willingness to discriminate against certain business owners’ efforts. to support. homosexuals. That included the Colorado confectionary, which won the right to refuse to sell wedding cakes to gay couples — in a legal argument the Trump Justice Department supported.

Religious groups have been active from the outset in publicly contesting the results of the November election – even when a much more secretive campaign was underway, involving Mr Farris and others such as Mark D. Martin, the dean of the Regent University School of Law, a self-described Christian institution.

Mr. Martin, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Mr. Farris were both involved, according to emails obtained by The Times, in efforts to recruit a Republican attorney general to file a lawsuit. to sue the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the efforts of allies of mr. Trump.

Drafts of the lawsuit were also sent to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican. But the most intense efforts appear to have been aimed at South Carolina and Texas, the emails suggest, as conservative activists tried to convince South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to serve as lead prosecutor.

“Mike Farris, the president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) will be sending out reports, perhaps as early as tonight,” said a Nov. 27 email to Mr. Wilson, sent by conservative activist and author Don Brown. , citing reports examining presidential election results and ongoing challenges.

Three days later, Mr. Farris to Mr. Wilson, with a draft of the lawsuit that he wanted Mr. Wilson would consider filing an application with the US Supreme Court. Mr Farris then spoke to Mr Wilson about the potential lawsuit, according to the emails.

“We have been in constant discussions with other state AGs and state AG personnel,” wrote Mr. Wilson in a Dec. 3 email, also obtained through an open records request. “Had a follow up meeting with Mike Farris yesterday morning before flying back to Texas. Mike was very accommodating and knowledgeable about the legal issues raised in the plea. ”

But Mr. Wilson objected to the legal arguments with Mr. Farris, he said, questioning whether one state had the right to sue another state over electoral procedures or what it might be reasonable to ask the Supreme Court to as a “cure” for such a legal dispute, as it concerned the outcome of the presidential election.

“Other issues have been raised that have been difficult to resolve, but our staff and other states are still working on the matter,” said Mr. Wilson.

Undeterred, the team of conservative activists stepped up their efforts to hire Mr. Paxton, who within days went ahead with his lawsuit on behalf of the state of Texas.

“Our country is at an important crossroads,” Paxton’s indictment said in his opening statement. Those words were literally removed from the draft Mr Farris had sent, as well as a subsequent passage that stated that “whether the Constitution matters and should be followed, even if some officials find it inconvenient or outdated, or it’s just a piece of parchment on display at the National Archives, we ask the Court to choose the former.”

Jim Rutenberg reporting contributed.

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