John C. Eastman

John C. Eastman is an American conservative lawyer and former professor. He is the founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a public interest law firm affiliated with the conservative think tank Claremont Institute.[1][2] He is a former professor and dean at the Chapman University School of Law.[3] He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for California's 34th congressional district in 1990, and for the office of California Attorney General in 2010.[1] He is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

John C. Eastman
Eastman in 2013
EducationUniversity of Dallas (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)
Claremont Graduate School (PhD)
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Eastman

He drew controversy in 2020 for an op-ed which erroneously suggested that then-presumed Democratic nominee for U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was not an American citizen and thus not legally eligible for the position.[4][5][6]

Eastman participated in the attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election.[7][8][9][10] During President Donald Trump's last efforts before the certification of Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, Eastman incorrectly told Vice President Mike Pence in an Oval Office meeting on January 5, 2021, that Pence had the constitutional authority to block the certification.[11][12] Pence did not accept Eastman's argument. Eastman also sent to Republican senator Mike Lee a six-point plan of action for Pence to throw out the electors from seven states to keep Trump in power, which Lee rejected.[13]

On January 6, 2021, Eastman presented a speech at the White House Trump rally that preceded the 2021 United States Capitol attack. On January 13, 2021, Eastman retired from the Chapman University faculty after creating controversy by speaking at the Trump rally.[14][15]


Eastman graduated from the Dallas-area Lewisville High School and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Dallas. He then earned his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School, and a Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate School. During his time in law school, Eastman worked on the University of Chicago Law Review.[16]


Prior to law school, he served as Director of Congressional and Public Affairs at the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1989.[17] He was also the unsuccessful 1990 Republican nominee for United States House of Representatives in California's 34th congressional district.[18]

After law school, he clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court of the United States, then was an attorney with the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, specializing in civil and constitutional litigation. He later joined Chapman to teach constitutional law. He has also appeared on the nationally-syndicated Hugh Hewitt show commenting on law.[19]

Eastman served as an attorney for the State of South Dakota, representing it in a denied petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in a constitutional challenge to federal spending.[20]

Eastman has represented the North Carolina legislature and the State of Arizona in unsuccessfully petitioning the Supreme Court in cases involving same-sex marriage,[21] abortion,[22] and immigration.[23]

He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014 arguing that President Barack Obama's unilateral suspension of deportation for illegal immigrants was unconstitutional.[24]


1990 congressional campaignEdit

In 1990 Eastman was unopposed in the primary to become the Republican challenger of long term 34th District incumbent Esteban Torres in California's San Gabriel Valley.[25][26][27]

California's 34th congressional district election, 1990
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Esteban Torres (incumbent) 55,646 60.70
Republican John Eastman 36,024 39.30
Total votes 91,670 100.00
Democratic hold

California Attorney General campaignEdit

On February 1, 2010, Eastman resigned as Dean of the Chapman University School of Law to pursue the Republican nomination for California Attorney General.[28] On April 1, a Superior Court judge denied Eastman's choice for ballot designation, "Assistant Attorney General", fearing that use of this title, granted by South Dakota for his work on a lawsuit, would be misperceived as a California title. The judge further denied Eastman's second choice, "Taxpayer Advocate/Attorney", but accepted his third choice, "Constitutional Law Attorney". Such designations typically reflect a candidate's current employment or elected office.[29] Eastman finished second in the three-way Republican primary with 34.2% of the vote, behind Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who received 47.3%.[30] Cooley advanced to the 2010 California Attorney General election, where he was defeated by Kamala Harris.[31]

Board affiliationsEdit

Eastman is chairman of the Federalist Society's Federalism & Separation of Powers practice group.[32][33] He is chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.[34][35] He is a director of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which brings election lawsuits.[36][37] He is both a member of the board and on the faculty at the Claremont Institute.[38][39][40] He sits on the board of advisors of St. Monica's Academy[41] and the advisory board of the St. Thomas More Law Society of Orange County.[42]


Kamala Harris citizenship op-edEdit

In August 2020, Newsweek published an op-ed by Eastman questioning 2020 vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris's eligibility for the office. He asserted she could not be a U.S. citizen by birth despite being born in Oakland, California, if neither of her parents was a permanent resident at the time of her birth. Eastman said that she could have subsequently obtained citizenship derived from the naturalization of her parents if one of them had become a citizen prior to her 16th birthday in 1980, which would have allowed Harris to fulfill the nine-year citizenship requirement required to become a senator.[43]

Prominent legal scholars disagreed with Eastman's position, and many compared it to the birtherism theory against President Barack Obama. Newsweek defended the column, while acknowledging that it was "horrified that this op-ed gave rise to a wave of vile Birtherism directed at Senator Harris". It stated there was no connection between the op-ed and the birther movement. Rather, the op-ed focused on the "long-standing, somewhat arcane legal debate about the precise meaning of the phrase 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof' and the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment", also known as the jus sanguinis or jus soli debate.[44] However, Axios noted that other constitutional scholars do not accept Eastman's view, labeling it "baseless". Axios also criticized him for brushing off the eligibility concerns of 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz, born in Calgary, Canada, in a 2016 National Review op-ed, claiming they were "silly".[45]

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley Law School, told BBC: "Under section 1 of the 14th Amendment, anyone born in the United States is a United States citizen. The Supreme Court has held this since the 1890s. Kamala Harris was born in the United States."[46] Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe was similarly dismissive, telling The New York Times “I hadn’t wanted to comment on [Eastman’s idea] because it’s such an idiotic theory. There is nothing to it.”[47] One day after it published Eastman's op-ed, Newsweek published an opinion piece by legal scholar Eugene Volokh, titled "Yes, Kamala Harris is Eligible to be Vice President", in which Volokh argues that Harris is a "natural-born citizen" under the U.S. Constitution and is therefore eligible to be vice president.[48] Chris Truax, in an earlier piece for USA Today, pointed out that tens of millions of Americans, including Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, would not be "natural-born citizens" if Eastman's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment were correct.[49]

This op-ed was cited by the New York Times as helping Eastman come to the attention of Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign adviser, and subsequently, Eastman briefly met with Trump campaign advisors in a Philadelphia hotel room the weekend after the 2020 presidential election, and, according to Eastman, caught COVID-19.[50] In early December, Trump called Eastman and asked him to challenge the results of the 2020 United States presidential election before the Supreme Court.[50]

2020 presidential electionEdit

On December 9, 2020, Eastman represented U.S. President Donald Trump in a motion to intervene in Texas v. Pennsylvania, a case filed directly in the U.S. Supreme Court by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, in which the state of Texas sought to annul the voting processes and, by extension, the electoral college results of at least four other states. Eastman’s brief included an array of unfounded claims and asserted “It is not necessary for [Trump] to prove that fraud occurred,” and asserted it was enough to show that elections “materially deviated” from the intent of state lawmakers, adding, “By failing to follow the rule of law, these officials put our nation's belief in elected self-government at risk.”[51][52][53] Two days later, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, finding that Texas did not have standing. It did not address the merits of any of Texas's claims.[54] On December 13, 2020, 159 Chapman University faculty members (including two from the law school) published a statement condemning Eastman for the filing.[55]

On December 24, 2020, the Trump administration called Eastman asking him to write a memo "asserting the vice president's power to hold up the certification" of the presidential election.[50] Eastman circulated a two-page outline and memo to the Trump legal team several days later, followed by a more extensive memo later.[50] Eastman called the vice president "the ultimate arbiter" of the election in his two-page memo.[56] After receiving sharp criticism about his role in the election aftermath, in October 2021 Eastman asserted the memos did not convey his advice but rather he had written them at the request of "somebody in the legal team" whose name he could not recall.[50] He also asserted in October that a scenario in which Pence would reject ballots was "foolish" and "crazy," further claiming he had told Pence during their Oval Office meeting that his proposal was an "open question" and "the weaker argument."[57] In a video taken secretly and made public that same month, Eastman suggested he believed that Pence's actions served Washington politics. Someone posing as a Trump supporter asked "Why do you think Mike Pence didn't do it?" Eastman responded that "Mike Pence is an establishment guy" who fears that Trump is "destroying the inside-the-Beltway Republican Party."[58]

On January 2, 2021, Eastman joined Trump, the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others in a conference call with 300 Republican legislators from Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to brief them on allegations of voter fraud, with the objective of the legislators attempting to decertify their states' election results.[59][60] That same day, together with Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, he appeared on Steve Bannon's podcast and promoted the idea that state lawmakers needed to reconsider the election results.[60] On January 5, 2021, Eastman met with Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office to argue incorrectly that the vice president has the constitutional authority to alter or otherwise change electoral votes.[61] According to Eastman, he told the vice president that he might have the authority to reject electoral college votes, and he asked the vice president to delay the certification.[50] Pence rejected Eastman's argument and instead agreed with his counsel, Greg Jacob, and conservative legal scholars and other Pence advisors, such as John Yoo and J. Michael Luttig.[62][63][64][65][66] Pence later released a letter stating he would not attempt to intervene in the certification process, citing Luttig by name, who later said it was "the highest honor of my life" to be involved in preserving the Constitution.[61][63][64][65]

On January 6, Eastman spoke alongside Giuliani at the "Save America" rally that preceded the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol and asserted without evidence that balloting machines contained "secret folders" that altered voting results.[67][68][69][70] During the Capitol storming, when Pence was forced into hiding, Eastman exchanged e-mails with Greg Jacob, Pence's chief counsel. Jacob wrote to Eastman, "Thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege." Eastman replied by blaming Pence and Jacob for refusing to block certification of Trump’s loss in the election, writing, "The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened." Later in the day, when the rioters were expelled from the Capitol and Pence was again presiding over Congress, Eastman told Jacob in another e-mail that Pence should still refuse to certify the election results.[71]

On January 7, Eastman edited this Wikipedia article to a less accusatory description of his post-election role. His editing was reverted due to conflict-of-interest rules of Wikipedia, and on January 9 he appealed on the talk page, where some changes were approved but others were denied.[72]

On January 9, 2021, the chairman of Chapman's board of trustees and two other members (including former Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez) called on the university's president and provost and the law school's dean "to promptly take action against Eastman for his role in the events of Jan. 6." Eastman responded that he was speaking two miles away from the Capitol building.[73][74]

On January 13, 2021, Chapman University announced that Eastman had agreed to retire from the university. Daniele C. Struppa, the university president, said that "Chapman and Dr. Eastman have agreed not to engage in legal actions of any kind, including any claim of defamation that may currently exist, as both parties move forward".[75] Eastman published a statement the next day saying that those who publicly condemned him "have created such a hostile environment for me that I no longer wish to be a member of the Chapman faculty, and am therefore retiring from my position, effective immediately." He said he would continue with his Spring 2021 position as Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado and intended to then devote full-time effort to his position as director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence.[74][76] The University of Colorado cancelled Eastman's Spring 2021 courses due to low enrollment.[77] The university also revoked some of Eastman's public-facing duties but permitted him to conduct scholarship.[78][66]

Appearing on CNN on January 23 to argue that the Trump rally did not incite the siege of the Capitol, Eastman asserted that "a paramilitary group as well as antifa groups" had been organizing "three or four days ahead of time." Eastman asserted this had been reported by The Washington Post days earlier, though the article he appeared to reference did not support his assertion and did not mention antifa.[79][80][81] The FBI had announced two weeks earlier there was no evidence of antifa involvement in the siege.[82] Eastman referred to an "antifa and BLM guy" who had been arrested after the Capitol incursion, an apparent reference to John Earle Sullivan, a Utah man who some characterized as an "antifa leader" who had supposedly infiltrated the rally crowd to instigate the insurgency. Federal authorities had not identified the man as a member of antifa.[83] Black Lives Matter Utah had for months disassociated itself from Sullivan on concerns he might be associated with the Proud Boys.[84][85]

On October 4, 2021, a bipartisan group of attorneys, including two former federal judges and two former justices of the California Supreme Court, filed a complaint with the State Bar of California asking for an investigation of Eastman relating to "his representation of former President Donald J. Trump in efforts to discredit and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election."[86][87]


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External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by 3rd Dean of the Chapman University School of Law
Succeeded by