In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.
With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.
In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an "unconstitutional poll tax" -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives" who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws "without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout" -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.
The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled "The Voter-ID Myth Crashes." Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting."
The Wall Street Journal is defending BP's decision to fight its legal responsibilities in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill by criticizing both class-action lawsuits and the settlement agreement that BP itself agreed to.
The Journal is vocally opposed to class action lawsuits and has previously criticized them as frivolous, abusive, and beneficial only to trial attorneys. Yet the editorial board apparently isn't fond of companies that take responsibility for their harmful actions and settle, either -- even though these settlements can be a less costly alternative to class action lawsuits.
In a recent editorial, the Journal was supportive of BP's latest efforts to avoid having to pay claims related to the oil spill that it caused and that has still not fully been cleaned out of the Gulf of Mexico. Even though BP helped craft and agreed to a billion-dollar settlement deal in order to avoid a trial result that could have been even more damaging, the company is now questioning the terms of the agreement. The Journal is fully onboard with BP's tactics, despite the fact that BP has repeatedly lost its varied attempts to disregard the settlement. The Journal wrote that the ensuing payments to claimants represent "an all-you-can-eat buffet" that is "the best thing ever to happen to the trial lawyers who continue to exploit the accident for fun and profit."
The editorial went on to call on the Supreme Court "to impose discipline on the class-action lawsuit industry" by voiding the settlement under a far-fetched legal theory that could foreclose the ability of anyone to agree to a settlement:
The fund has become an all-you-can-eat buffet and everybody is invited, regardless of the cause of the damages they may or may not have suffered. As long as claimants can show a material loss within certain geographical regions, they qualify.
BP sued to break this wave of abuse but lost in front of [federal district court Judge Carl] Barbier and then mostly again amid a tangle of opinions at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the major question for the High Court to resolve isn't a narrow dispute about whether [claims administrator for the settlement fund Patrick] Juneau's or BP's interpretation of the terms is right. Rather, it's whether the courts can certify a class in which thousands of people cannot prove they suffered injuries that the defendant caused and could never succeed in an individual lawsuit, as even Mr. Juneau has conceded.
A class settlement is not a mere understanding among private parties but carries a judicial imprimatur -- or at least is supposed to outside of the Bayou. The legal system is not allowed to convert non-claims into legitimate claims under either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure No. 23 or especially Article III of the U.S. Constitution.
The main reason is that aggregating real and false torts exceeds the constitutional bounds that limits judicial power to "cases and controversies." If BP wants to run a pot-of-gold fund, that's its business, but the courts can't play the administrator.
As strict voter ID laws are put into effect ahead of the midterm elections, recent judicial opinions and social science studies continue to poke holes in right-wing media's defense of voter suppression.
The Wall Street Journal is advocating for the elimination of decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals that prevents coordination between independent groups and political candidates -- a radical position the Journal pretends is a rejection of a "liberal campaign" but actually is a rejection of the conservative majority opinion in Citizens United.
In an October 20 editorial, the Journal praised a highly controversial federal district court judge's newest attempt to legalize prohibited coordination between Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside right-wing groups. Under investigation for suspected violation of campaign finance laws, these organizations are suing in an attempt to have rules against this type of coordination declared unconstitutional. Although the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to make previously disallowed expenditures in support of political candidates, the opinion from the conservative justices still recognized that a crucial guard against corruption was the federal prohibition on coordination between unlimited "independent" money and the politicians' actual campaigns. Yet the campaign finance nihilists on the Journal editorial board object to this long-established principle as well, misleadingly referring to coordination as a "new liberal target":
That came into stark view last week with a new and welcome judicial ruling in Wisconsin, only days after the Brennan Center issued a trumpet call for government to find more ways to criminalize campaign spending. The new liberal target is "coordination" between politicians and independent groups. This is dangerous stuff.
[The plaintiff in the Wisconsin campaign finance case] is Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates, an advocacy group that wants to collaborate with politicians on a project called "Take Charge Wisconsin" to educate the public about fiscal responsibility and property rights. But the group was unsure it could proceed under Wisconsin law as interpreted by prosecutors, so it sought relief in federal court.
The problem is that Wisconsin and other states have set up elaborate bureaucracies like the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to police free speech and harass individuals and groups that want to run political advertising. Wisconsin's GAB and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm "have taken the position that coordinated issue advocacy is illegal under Wisconsin's campaign finance law," wrote Judge [Rudolph] Randa.
That legal interpretation has already been rejected by state judge Gregory Peterson, but the state and Mr. Chisholm are appealing. Thanks to Judge Randa's ruling, at least the conservatives will be able to engage in issue advocacy without fear of prosecution in the few remaining days before the election.
It's important to understand that this political attack on "coordination" is part of a larger liberal campaign. The Brennan Center -- the George Soros-funded brains of the movement to restrict political speech -- issued a report this month that urges regulators to police coordination between individuals and candidates as if it were a crime.
The report raises alarms that independent expenditures have exploded since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, as if trying to influence elections isn't normal in a democracy.
Although the Journal insists that attempts to eliminate coordination between independent groups and candidates are a liberal plot, it is actually a bipartisan goal that has been repeatedly endorsed by the Supreme Court, including its conservatives. In the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, the Court found that "[u]nlike contributions, such independent expenditures may well provide little assistance to the candidate's campaign, and indeed may prove counterproductive. The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate." In other words, the Court determined that a lack of coordination between candidates and outside groups is necessary to reduce the potential for or the appearance of corruption in the political process, the core reason campaign finance is regulated.
A pair of recent studies debunk some of right-wing media's favorite rationales for legal "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to sue corporate wrongdoers.
Right-wing media have consistently railed against class action lawsuits, despite the fact that such suits make it easier for consumers to group low-value claims together that attorneys might otherwise not take. The Wall Street Journal in particular has been critical of class actions, calling them "frivolous," too expensive, and only beneficial to the plaintiffs' lawyers. In one editorial after the Supreme Court upheld the decades-long use of class actions for investors in securities, the Journal attacked the decision as "a champagne day for trial lawyers ... as the Justices voted to maintain the status quo." In another, the editorial board claimed that class action lawsuits that were filed to help workers recover back wages for the time they spent waiting in security check lines "would benefit lawyers far more than workers," ignoring the potential wage theft at issue.
But two new studies undercut some of the main premises behind the Journal's anti-lawsuit crusade. According to a recent report from the Center for Justice & Democracy, "class actions have not only helped victims of corporate law-breaking, but have also resulted in injunctive relief that protects us all from a wide array of corporate wrongdoing, from employment and civil rights violations to price-fixing and consumer fraud to automotive defects to health care abuses." From servicemember financial abuse to systematic sex discrimination at the country's largest employers, the report analyzed hundreds of class action lawsuits and settlements and found that nearly all of them provided meaningful relief to the plaintiffs who had been injured or defrauded. CJ&D note that "without the class action tool, corporations and businesses can ignore the law far more easily and operate with impunity."
Moreover, the conservative idea that class action lawsuits result in higher costs in the industry with the challenged practices is also suspect -- at least in the context of healthcare. A new study from the Rand Corporation suggests that even though "many believe that fear of malpractice lawsuits drives physicians to order otherwise unnecessary care and that legal reforms could reduce such wasteful spending," states that have enacted such reforms have not seen a corresponding reduction in healthcare costs.
For example, as The American Prospect's Paul Waldman explained, healthcare costs have actually gone up in Texas since the state passed a constitutional amendment that severely limited money damages that could be recovered in medical malpractice suits:
[I]n Texas, they passed a constitutional amendment in 2003 that made it almost impossible to recover meaningful damages from medical malpractice. That was good for doctors -- the number of malpractice claims plummeted, and malpractice premiums went down -- but instead of falling, health care costs in the state actually rose faster than in the rest of the country.
When you ask Republicans what they'd like to do to reform American health care, the first thing out of their mouths is usually "tort reform." But the fact that all the evidence suggests it would do nothing to cut costs is probably not going to dent their commitment to laws limiting people's ability to sue for malpractice. That's because the truth is that conservatives see this as a moral question as much as a fiscal one. "Frivolous lawsuits" make them livid, and as far as they're concerned a frivolous lawsuit getting filed (even if it never goes anywhere) is a greater outrage than someone who was victimized not being able to get compensation.
Class action lawsuits provide a valuable legal remedy for consumers who have been defrauded or injured by large corporations, but right-wing media have often discounted their value and hyped their supposed societal costs. Yet as these recent studies once again demonstrate, conservative justifications behind tort "reform" seem to be based less on sound policy and more on antipathy to a court system that encourages corporate accountability.
Fox News is claiming that Democratic campaigns and supporters are vastly outspending their Republican counterparts during this election cycle, a suggestion that appears to focus on super PACs and ignores the influence of "dark money" spending that favors the GOP.
On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer stated that Democrats have "got a lot of money ... and they're spending it, in some states, 4-to-1 over Republican candidates." National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg repeated a similar claim on the October 13 edition of Happening Now, downplaying secretive right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and arguing that "the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side" in contentious Senate races like the one in Kentucky:
HEATHER CHILDERS (guest host): So, a lot of this also is coming down to money. And we are talking about big amounts of money that are being spent from both sides in these particular states, so how is that going to influence things?
GOLDBERG: Sure, well, it depends on state by state. You know, in some of these places, you just don't have enough physical airtime in the space-time continuum to buy more ads. I mean, people are throwing in -- you know, the Democrats are just announcing [unintelligible] a million dollars into South Dakota. A million dollars probably would buy, you know, who knows how much airtime in South Dakota at this point. And so you're seeing things saturated all over the place. One of the things that has helped Democrats enormously is, they have actually raised vastly more money than Republicans have at a lot of these different levels. They're spending a lot more money. In North Carolina, they're outspending Republicans, I think, 2-to-1, and yet they claim that it's all the evil Koch brothers and their sort of other James Bond-like villains who are throwing all the money into Republicans. When the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side, but a lot of the mainstream media covers it as if, "Oh, it must be the Republicans who are taking advantage of all of this outside money." [emphasis added]
On October 15, Fox News correspondent Jim Angle continued the network's inapt comparison of the Koch brothers to high-dollar Democratic donors. Angle didn't mention that unlike the progressive billionaires and unions he highlighted, conservative activists like the Kochs are unwilling to publicly stand behind the right-wing policies their billions of dollars fund.
Fox News' narrative is misrepresenting the full and current story on campaign spending, which actually shows that a deluge of undisclosed outside money is supporting Republicans and outpacing similar expenditures for Democrats -- especially in the Kentucky contest.
The 4-to-1 statistic that Hemmer used may be a reference to a widely cited report from The Wall Street Journal that found super PACs aligned with Democrats had raised four times more than their Republican counterparts. By focusing on super PAC figures, Fox News is ignoring massive spending from outside right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox News contributor Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch brothers' network of secretive and increasingly political groups. These organizations don't reveal their donors, and sometimes -- depending on the type of ad they are running -- they don't even reveal their expenditures. Groups of that sort have spent more "dark money" -- funds from undisclosed donors -- than Democratic-leaning groups have.
The Wall Street Journal is dismissing efforts to convince corporations to be more transparent about their political contributions as "partisan agitprop," despite the fact that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for such transparency in 2010's Citizens United decision.
Although a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum disagree with the court's decision in Citizens United and support a bipartisan effort to reduce the unprecedented influx of campaign spending and "dark money" in politics, the Journal isn't convinced that transparency and disclosure for corporations playing politics is worthwhile. In an October 14 editorial, the Journal complained that groups like the Center for Political Accountability targeted corporations in an attempt to "discourage businesses from participating in politics" by publishing an index that ranks companies based on how transparent they are about their political expenditures. The goal of the index is to encourage corporations to disclose their campaign contributions to their shareholders, since it is the shareholders' money that is financing the political spending in the first place.
But the editorial was unsupportive of the group's activities, despite the fact that the conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld campaign finance disclosures in their majority opinion in Citizens United as indispensable to their decision that corporations can influence elections as freely as actual voters:
Hey shareholders, want some stock tips from a nonprofit outfit that wants to discourage businesses from participating in politics? That's the dubious message from a new index designed to block the political speech of corporations while leaving unions free to donate as they please.
Every year, the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability publishes the Wharton-Zicklin index, which ranks companies based on their political disclosure. When the group isn't publishing the index, it spends its time pushing for shareholder proxy proposals that would force companies to disclose their political activity.
The activist group's tactics have also included pressuring companies to cave pre-emptively and disclose political activity for fear of becoming targets. The index ranks companies according to their political transparency and disclosure profile. The Center for Political Accountability then uses those rankings as a truncheon to lobby CEOs to advertise how and how much they spend on campaigns and lobbying.
Most shareholders aren't buying it, but the disclosure gambit deserves to be exposed as the partisan agitprop it is.
A recent CBS Evening News report on unnecessarily strict voter ID laws engaged in the sort of "he said, she said" reporting that ignores the virtual non-existence of in-person voter fraud, a type of false equivalence that media critics have widely condemned.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order that prevented Wisconsin's voter ID law -- one of the strictest in the nation -- from going into effect just weeks before the November elections. Opponents of the law argued that the new identification requirements were not only unconstitutional but would have caused "chaos" at polling places and could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters who lacked the appropriate ID. A similarly restrictive voter ID law was struck down by a federal judge in Texas that same day, with the judge calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that unfairly discriminated against the poor and people of color.
These types of strict voter ID laws are popular among Republican lawmakers, despite the fact that they are redundant and there is no evidence of widespread, in-person voter fraud -- the type of fraud voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Nevertheless, on the October 10 edition of CBS Evening News, correspondent Chip Reid's segment on the recent legal decisions affecting Texas and Wisconsin's voter ID laws failed to report this simple truth about voter suppression:
Fox News is calling recent court decisions blocking voter ID laws a "setback," despite the fact that these decisions will allow more people to engage in the political process.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order temporarily blocking Wisconsin's voter ID law -- a law that The New York Times called "one of the strictest in the nation." Even though these kinds of voter ID laws disproportionately affect people of color and in-person voter fraud is almost nonexistent, right-wing media outlets has repeatedly celebrated them. National Review Online was highly supportive of Wisconsin's law in particular, and it called fears that the new ID requirements would cause "chaos at the polls" overblown because "there has been no such 'chaos' in any of the other states that have implemented voter-ID laws over the past ten years."
Elsewhere, in Texas, a federal court struck down that state's voter ID law -- another stringent law that right-wing media have described as "a good thing." However, in its ruling, the court called Texas' law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that "has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."
Yet Fox News was apparently unmoved by the Texas court's proclamation that the right to vote "defines our nation as a democracy." On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum said the "timing" of the orders was "very interesting." Her co-host, Bill Hemmer, said the decisions were "the latest setbacks" to laws "meant to crack down on voter fraud":
The timing is interesting, but probably not in the way MacCallum thinks. Although the court's order doesn't say why it stopped Wisconsin's law from being implemented, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston suggested that "the fact that this year's election is less than a month away may have been the key factor." In its brief in the Wisconsin case, the ACLU also argued that "[n]o court has permitted a voter ID law to go into effect this close to an election based on last-minute changes to the law." Had the law been implemented before the 2014 election, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters could have been affected. According to the ACLU and the Advancement Project, state officials would have had "to issue some 6,000 IDs per day between now and the election" to ensure that every eligible voter had the required form of identification.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is criticizing a new Supreme Court case by downplaying serious allegations in the case that Amazon.com engaged in illegal employment activities and complaining about class action lawsuits.
On October 8, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a case involving a class action lawsuit in which temporary contractors who worked in Amazon warehouses are accusing the retailer of wage theft. The lead plaintiff in the case, Jesse Busk, represents warehouse staffers who argue that they are owed back pay for the time they spent in lines for security checks after they had clocked out. Busk says he often waited upward of 25 minutes at the end of his shift to go through security, where guards checked each employee for stolen merchandise. Because the security screenings are mandated by company policy, Busk and the rest of the class argue they should be compensated for the time they spent waiting to be screened.
Although the court recently held that the time employees spend putting on and taking off protective gear is not compensable, the Busk case is far from a slam-dunk. But as far as the Journal editorial board is concerned, "this should be an easy call for the Justices." In an October 7 editorial, the Journal minimized how much time workers were required to wait in security lines, complained that suits to recover back wages for this unpaid time "benefit lawyers far more than workers," and misrepresented the holding in other wage theft cases to conclude that "[t]ime in security lines doesn't qualify" for compensation:
Standing in line might feel like work, but it isn't. Under the 1947 Portal to Portal Act, Congress specifically wrote rules to prevent employees from abusing an amorphous definition of work in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to claim they were entitled to be paid for a wide range of activities on work premises. Congress said employers weren't expected to pay employees for "walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform."
That understanding has been upheld by both the Second and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal. Workers must be paid only for activities that are "integral and indispensable" to their core job responsibilities. Time in security lines doesn't qualify.
This kind of FLSA litigation has been booming, especially as securities class-actions have become harder for the trial bar to win. From March 2011 to March 2012, 7,064 FLSA actions were filed in federal court, up from 2,035 a decade earlier.
If the Ninth Circuit's reasoning is upheld, it would encourage a wave of copycat suits and mean countless paydays for the trial bar. A similar lawsuit is pending against Apple, which checks employee bags for wayward iPhones. While the security delays are only minutes, a class-action suit would cost millions in settlements that would benefit lawyers far more than workers.
The 9th Circuit applied a two-part test in in its opinion to determine whether an on-the-job activity is "integral and indispensable" -- it must be both "necessary to the principal work performed" and "done for the benefit of the employer." In Amazon's case, the employees are arguing that the security checks meet this test, because the checks arise from their work in the warehouse, and uncovering theft is solely for the company's benefit.