MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Over the past 10 weeks, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, protesters holding signs and sometimes making noise, have stood almost daily at the edge of the road in front of Leonard Leo’s home in Northeast Harbor.
Some of them also have been protesting in front of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Bar Harbor, where Leo attends services.
Leo is co-chair of the conservative Federalist Society and has been instrumental in the nomination of five Supreme Court justices including the three nominated by Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. All three voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The protest group of mostly women, whose numbers and makeup vary from day to day, has gotten a lot of attention. But what do they really hope to accomplish?
The Islander spoke with five regular or semi-regular protesters and asked them that question. All five began by saying they want to raise public awareness of who Leo is, what his political agenda is and his behind-the-scenes role in shaping the federal judiciary. Some also mentioned his efforts to influence the crafting of laws and regulations regarding abortion rights, voting rights and climate change.
“I want my kids to see that when I believe in something, I’m willing to do something about it,” Bettina Richards, a seasonal resident of Northeast Harbor, said of her reason for protesting.
She said that as people learn about Leo and his conservative agenda, they might be inspired to get out and vote.
“We can vote people in who will either pass laws that restrict the amount of dark money in politics or vote people in who will secure women’s right to health care or vote people in who will protect environmental regulations,” she said.
“People have the power if they vote. And if everybody bands together, all the dark money in the world cannot defeat the voter.”
Amy Trafton of Tremont said, “I would like to make Leonard Leo’s name more known, both in our community and in the country. And I know it’s a big ask, but I would like for (nonprofit organizations) in our local community not to accept his money.”
Tina Stein of Bar Harbor said she wants people to know how much power Leo wields behind the scenes.
“He is almost singlehandedly responsible for overturning Roe because he handpicked the conservative justices on the Supreme Court,” she said.
“I want people to understand how dark money has influenced what has happened to our country, and how it happened, so that people can be more vigilant and vote… realizing how important the judiciary is. I think if we understand how one man can pervert our country and take it back to the Middle Ages, people will maybe pay more attention to the details and to who is running politics,” Stein said.
Like Stein, Nancy Shaeffer of Northeast Harbor said she would like for more people to vote.
“But I can’t make everyone vote,” she said. “I want to bring attention to the fact that (Leo) is trying to take away women’s rights and trying to stop climate change legislation around the country. I would just love for people to know who he is and what he stands for.”
Caroline Pryor of Mount Desert said part of her goal in protesting is to make people on Mount Desert Island aware that “here, living in our midst is a very powerful and dangerous man, someone who is changing the face of democracy as we know it. His is a very radical religious agenda.
“(Protesting) is about raising his profile here, locally, and people can decide whether they want to do business with him or not,” she said.
“It’s also about raising awareness that the November elections are really, really important. Part of the end game is motivating people to vote. It scares me to think that Paul LePage and Bruce Poliquin and Donald Trump might be elected.
“The last session of the Supreme Court had something for all of us to be really scared about. So, that’s why I stand.”