Meet the Lawyer Trying to Keep Trump on the Ballot

A red cork bulletin board with various photos of Harmeet Dhillon and documents of the organizations she's attached to. There's string connecting the different photos and documents pinned to the board.

On Dec. 28, 2023, the day after the Colorado Republican Party asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify former President Donald Trump from appearing on the state’s primary ballot, Harmeet Dhillon tweeted: “Democrats are conspiring to commit the biggest election interference fraud in world history, right before our eyes, as government officials avert their eyes to the mockery of the constitution and our laws. This is a low point in American history.”

It’s a typical statement for Dhillon: defending Trump, bashing Democrats and alluding to a crime they’re committing that didn’t actually happen. The kind of statement her biggest client, Trump, would tweet. Lately, Dhillon’s been busy with Trump’s effort to remain on the ballot in the 2024 presidential race. The Dhillon Law Group is one of the law firms representing the former president in his legal fights in Maine and Colorado to remain on those state’s ballots. 

Over the past few years, Dhillon — a conservative lawyer and the Republican national committeewoman from California — has become a fixture in Trump’s GOP, appearing on Fox News to rail against Democrats, cancel culture and the “woke” liberal agenda and representing the likes of Tucker Carlson, Andy Ngo and other far-right personalities in headline-seeking free speech lawsuits. 

In 2022, Dhillon mounted a formidable campaign to replace Ronna McDaniel as the head of the RNC. Ultimately, she lost the race in a 111-51 vote, with allegations that a “whisper campaign” about her Sikh faith roiled her effort. 

Dhillon and her namesake law firm she founded in 2006 has become one of the leading legal groups working to roll back voting rights across the country. In the past few years, Dhillon — or an attorney from her law firm — has been involved in at least 16 different lawsuits in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. challenging voting rights laws, redistricting, election processes or Trump’s efforts to appear on the ballot in the 2024 election, according to our case database.

And, much like her biggest client, the lawyer who’s representing the former president and asserted herself as a legal crusader to roll back voting rights has her own sordid history of controversy. That includes promoting baseless conspiracy theories, connections to controversial right-wing groups like the Federalist Society and Turning Point USA and questionable financial dealings involving her nonprofit, the Center for American Liberty. 

Though Harmeet Dhillon has been active in GOP politics for decades, it wasn’t until the Trump presidency that she became a fixture in the Republican Party. Her biggest impact in the modern GOP is undoubtedly her legal work related to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and myriad legal efforts to roll back voting rights in the biggest swing states. 

In the days before polls opened in November of 2020, the Trump campaign formed a legal coalition called Lawyers for Trump whose stated mission was to “protect the integrity” of the election. The team was led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), Arkansas Lt. Gov. Leslie Rutledge (R) and Dhillon. 

As a legal advisor to the Trump campaign, Dhillon went on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight as votes were still being counted in key swing states, rattled off unfounded allegations of voter fraud being committed by Democrats and called on the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and help Trump win. “Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court, of which the president has nominated three justices, to step in and do something,” she said. “And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through and pick it up.”

In the 2022 midterm elections, Dhillon’s firm was extremely active in various GOP efforts to overturn elections in key states and disenfranchise voters. Dhillon was hired by Kari Lake (R), the election-denying Arizona gubernatorial candidate who mounted a massive legal effort to overturn the state’s election results based on false claims of voter fraud. Her firm also represented Abraham Hamadeh, an election denier who ran for Arizona attorney general and contested the election results after losing. 

In Georgia, she represented the Republican Party, which intervened in a lawsuit to defend the state’s disenfranchising wet signature requirement — a law requiring absentee ballot applications to be signed with pen and ink in order to be valid. In 2021, Dhillon represented a member of Pennsylvania’s Bradford County Board of Elections in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s no-excuse mail-in voting law, which greatly expanded voter access in the Keystone State.

And as a frequent counsel for the RNC and various conservative groups like Citizens United, Dhillon’s firm has filed amicus briefs supporting discriminatory congressional maps in Alabama and a fringe right-wing legal theory in a case from North Carolina. Both cases made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately struck down Alabama’s map and rejected the radical independent state legislature theory. 

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Dhillon was born in India and her family immigrated to the United States and settled down in rural North Carolina when she was a child. Her parents were conservative Sikhs and, when they became citizens, registered as Republicans and held fundraisers for the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.). She enrolled in Dartmouth College when she was just 16 and eventually came to be editor-in-chief of the school’s conservative newspaper, The Dartmouth Review.

It was in that role that Dhillon first courted controversy, when she published an antisemitic satirical column that compared the school’s Jewish president to Adolf Hitler, and his treatment of conservatives on campus to the Holocaust. The uproar over the column escalated and eventually caught the attention of The New York Times, which published Dhillon’s unapologetic defense, in which she told the Times that people misinterpreted the satire and were “trying to twist the issue to their own ends.”

After Dartmouth, Dhillon briefly worked for the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation before attending the University of Virginia School of Law and clerking for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul Victor Niemeyer, a George H.W. Bush appointee. She spent a decade working for big and small international law firms practicing federal and state commercial litigation and arbitration before she formed her own firm, the Dhillon Group, in 2006. 

Dhillon’s path to politics started in 2004, in the George W. Bush era when, as she told Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, she got a piece of mail from the Bush-Cheney campaign saying that the GOP was looking for people to hold debate watch parties. She held four parties and was soon asked to fill a vacancy in her county’s GOP central committee.

In 2008, she ran for a seat in the California Assembly, in a heavily Democratic district in San Francisco where only 8% of registered voters were Republican. She gained 17% of the vote. She also ran and lost for a California Senate seat in 2012 and, in 2016, she was elected to be a national committee member for the Republican National Committee (RNC). 

In 2018, Harmeet founded a nonprofit legal organization called the Center for American Liberty (CAL) with the stated mission of “defending the civil liberties of Americans left behind by civil rights legacy organizations.”

Unlike the for-profit work of the Dhillon Law Group, CAL is instead a network of attorneys to “zealously advocate for individual liberty and to combat illegal discrimination.” It’s through Dhillon’s work with CAL that she’s gained the most notoriety: suing California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) over pandemic safety precautions, representing far-right provocateur Andy Ngo in his effort to sue three Portland protesters who are part of the left-wing social justice group Antifa and working to erode gender-affirming health care

In other words, CAL is Dhillon’s more Trumpian legal avenue, using its nonprofit status to more directly represent and advocate for the GOP’s radical agenda, leading the fight against the “coordinated assault on our civil liberties from corporations, politicians, socialist revolutionaries, and inept or biased government officials,” as the group puts it. 

But CAL isn’t without controversy. In June of 2023, The Guardian exposed that CAL was paying the Dhillon Law Group for legal work. According to CAL’s tax filings, the nonprofit has paid Dhillon Law Group at least $900,000 since 2020 for “administrative and legal services.” As the chief executive officer of CAL, Dhillon has been paid at least $320,000 in compensation since 2021. The relationship between CAL and the Dhillon Law Group is “problematic” according to Joan Harrington, a fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, who spoke to The Guardian. “It looks like Dhillon Law and the non-profit are overlapping to the extent that its hard to tell the difference.”

And CAL isn’t the only organization that Dhillon’s been involved with that’s also been financially entangled with her for-profit law firm. According to research from the investigative watchdog Accountable.US, Dhillon was chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association the same year that the Dhillon Law Group was a $10,000 “gold sponsor” of its annual national policy conference. The only other “gold”-level sponsor last year was the Leonard Leo-backed Concord Fund, sometimes known as the Judicial Crisis Network. 

Most recently, Dhillon is integral to Trump’s 2024 campaign as part of his legal coalition to keep him on the ballot. In late December, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that, under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, Trump shouldn’t be allowed on the state’s ballot due to his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. The Maine Secretary of State removed him from the state’s ballot shortly thereafter for the same reason. Dhillon’s firm is part of the legal team that appealed the Colorado decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will have an enormous impact on the 2024 presidential election.

“From where we sit, the historical and factual record is very clear,” Dhillon tweeted after the Supreme Court agreed to take up Trump’s ballot eligibility case. “It’s time to put a stop to Dems’ election interference shenanigans!”