National Review editor Rich Lowry is painting Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, as a controversial pick who should "never be confirmed," because she has suggested that the president's executive actions on immigration are lawful. Not only is Lowry's analysis of the legality of the actions contradicted by experts, his erroneous description of such prosecutorial discretion as "executive action" has been debunked, and presidents generally do not nominate chief enforcement officers who promise to go after their sponsor.
Right-wing media have been hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason to oppose Lynch's nomination, instead relying on specious attacks and, in one instance, going after the wrong Loretta Lynch. Lowry's March 18 op-ed for Politico was likewise devoid of any substantive critiques of Lynch's legal positions or her qualifications. Still, Lowry argued that Senate Republicans should "never" confirm Lynch because she believes -- as is the wide consensus among legal and immigration experts -- that the president's executive actions on immigration, a modified Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), are lawful.
As all the Republicans opposing her nomination make plain, the issue is her belief that President Barack Obama's executive amnesty is lawful.
This isn't a mere matter of policy or personal preference. It implicates her view of the constitutional order that she will be sworn to uphold. Whether she thinks the executive branch can in effect write laws on its own is a threshold question. Her answer in the affirmative should be disqualifying, no matter how impressive her career has otherwise been, or how historic her confirmation would be.
On the merits, when should Republicans bring her up for a vote -- now delayed because Democrats are filibustering a sex-trafficking bill? Never. When should they confirm her? Never.
The Senate shouldn't confirm any attorney general nominee, from whatever party, of whatever race, ethnicity or gender identification, who believes the president can rewrite the nation's laws at will.
Right-wing media are baselessly accusing the Department of Justice of lying to the judge in Texas overseeing the legal challenge against President Obama's immigration actions. They are claiming that a DOJ attorney made false statements in court when she indicated that applications for two new deferred-action programs were not being processed. But these right-wing media figures are wrong. These two programs are not proceeding. The federal government has renewed 100,000 applications for deferred action for immigrants eligible under a 2012 program -- a third category of applicants who are not covered in the case.
Republican officials from 26 states sued the Obama administration after the president signed a series of executive actions on immigration in November. In part, these executive actions temporarily defer deportations for two new categories of eligible undocumented immigrants, such as parents of citizens. These acts of prosecutorial discretion also immediately changed the president's original 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by extending the deferral period from two years to three, in order to bring it in line with the expiration dates for the new programs. Before the federal government could start accepting applications from immigrants eligible for the two new programs -- a modified version of DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) -- a district court judge in Texas issued an injunction temporarily blocking from going into effect. The third category, under the 2012 guidelines, was not enjoined.
In accompanying court proceedings, under questioning from the judge, the DOJ confirmed that applicants for the two new categories were not yet being processed, as the judge instructed.
Right-wing media have attacked Obama's immigration action since it was announced, and have commended the Texas judge for putting it on hold, even though the legal basis for the injunction is quite shaky. Now conservative media outlets are also claiming that the administration's lawyers lied because the Department of Homeland Security approved or renewed 100,000 applications from the original 2012 DACA program between November 2014 and February 2015 and applied the deferral for three years instead of two -- even though that change was required to be immediately applied.
Loretta Lynch, President Obama's pick to replace Eric Holder as the U.S. attorney general, is a highly regarded and well-qualified federal prosecutor who has support from law-enforcement authorities and politicians on both sides of the aisle. But that hasn't stopped right-wing media from mounting a smear campaign to thwart Lynch's nomination. With reports indicating that GOP leadership may yet again block an up-or-down vote on Lynch's nomination, here are some of the most nonsensical arguments against her confirmation and facts that media outlets have missed -- or misrepresented -- about Lynch.
In a rush to find fault in Obama's well-qualified nominee, the right-wing website Breitbart.com managed to attack the wrong Loretta Lynch, not once, but twice. In a November 8 post, Breitbart.com writer Warner Todd Huston claimed that "few are talking about" the fact that Lynch defended the Clintons during the Whitewater probe in 1992 -- probably because it wasn't the same Loretta Lynch who was nominated. After learning of the mistake, Breitbart.com noted at the bottom of the one article that was not taken down, "The Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney."
Right-wing media have also tried to paint Lynch as a dangerous partisan. National Review's Hans von Spakovsky characterized Lynch as "on the side of radical" because she supported the Department of Justice's legal challenges against strict voter ID laws, which are based on half a century of modern civil rights precedent. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs complained that Lynch's membership in the historically black sorority Delta Sigma Theta was "controversial" because Holder's wife pledged at the same time. It is true: At times, she has defended civil rights, and she once belonged to a well-known sorority.
Senate Republicans turned to some of right-wing media's go-to contributors to turn Lynch's confirmation hearing into what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called a "sound bite factory for Fox News." The Republicans' witness list included:
When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked if any of them had a problem with Lynch's nomination for attorney general, none of them raised their hands -- they were there to complain about their favored right-wing media topics, and they did.
The right-wing media's calls to end birthright citizenship -- a constitutional guarantee -- have been repeated incessantly over the years and have once again found a sympathetic ear in Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who recently re-introduced legislation that would supposedly "prevent children born in the U.S. of foreign national parents from gaining automatic U.S. citizenship."
Conservative media figures going back to Glenn Beck in his Fox News days have railed against so-called "anchor babies" and "birth tourism," the former a derogatory slur and debunked myth used against U.S. born children of non-citizens, the latter of which represents a sliver of births that experts have repeatedly pointed out are "extraordinarily rare" and an insignificant immigration problem. As Salon's Simon Maloy recently wrote, this "grossly nativist and legally dubious" rhetoric has nevertheless found a receptive audience in Republican legislators on both the state and federal levels.
At the same time, right-wing media continue their drumbeat on this issue, most prominently ABC contributor and talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who has called ending the constitutional guarantee of citizenship at birth a "common sense step." This is nothing new for Ingraham, a self-proclaimed influence on Republican politics who has repeatedly condemned "birthright citizenship nonsense."
On the March 10 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly joined the chorus when he heard that children born in the U.S. automatically receive citizenship -- "the baby gets the passport" -- and declared, "That law's got to change." In the segment, which focused on "birth tourism" by Chinese parents, O'Reilly concluded, "This law is being abused like crazy. It's got to be changed. That should not be a hard thing to do."
In fact, that would be an extremely hard thing to do -- it would require amending the U.S. Constitution or overturning centuries of post-Civil War Supreme Court precedent.
O'Reilly and his guests -- Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor, and contributor Lis Wiehl, also a lawyer -- ignored the fact that it's not merely a "law" that confers citizenship to children born in the United States -- it's the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, intended to ensure equal protection for all in the wake of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, unequivocally states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States." This amendment has long been understood to grant birthright citizenship, and that interpretation has been re-affirmed by the Supreme Court since as far back as 1898. James C. Ho, the former solicitor general of Texas, explained in 2011 that birthright citizenship was intended "to reverse the Supreme Court's notorious 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling denying citizenship to slaves" and their children, and challenging its legality is "wasting taxpayer funds on a losing court battle, reopening the scars of the Civil War, and offending our Constitution and the rule of law."
But conservative media's radical calls for the end of birthright citizenship continue to make headway with Republicans in Congress.
On March 10, Vitter re-introduced his Birthright Citizenship Act, which would "close a loophole by clarifying that birthright citizenship is only given to the children of U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens." In announcing this legislation, Vitter claimed that allowing birthright citizenship is based on "a fundamental misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment," suggesting that the framers of the amendment, the Supreme Court, and legal experts have been wrong about its plain language for the last 150 years.
An alternate explanation for Vitter's legislation -- other than pure confusion -- is that this is intended to be unconstitutional and represents a "test case" expected to be repeatedly struck down in the federal courts on the way to the Supreme Court. Although GOP senators have shied away from acknowledging this, right-wing anti-immigration activists like Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach have plainly admitted as much.
Right-wing media is not quite so honest in its calls to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, choosing instead to baselessly scaremonger about "anchor babies" and "birth tourism."
A new study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has found that "forced arbitration" clauses in contracts for cellphones, credit cards, and car loans -- which typically include bans on class actions -- are highly beneficial to large corporations and provide little relief to wronged consumers. The study helps debunk the right-wing media's claims that arbitration is a cost-effective and worthy alternative to the courts.
Conservative media outlets have repeatedly claimed that class actions unfairly penalize large corporations while lining the pockets of trial lawyers -- all while ignoring the fact that class-action lawsuits are still the best way for injured consumers to pursue justice and the most efficient way for companies to handle legal claims.
Instead of class-action lawsuits, right-wing media prefer forced arbitration clauses, which require injured consumers to settle legal claims in expensive arbitration proceedings instead of in court. These clauses have become increasingly popular with banks, private student-loan providers, and the payday loan industry, and they are hidden in the fine print of tens of millions of "take it or leave it" contracts. According to Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, most Americans don't know that they're subject to the clauses, and the cost of initiating arbitration proceedings is so high that "most individuals covered by an arbitration clause cannot afford these costs and are forced to drop their cases." These attempts to allow corporate immunity to supersede federal rights are getting worse and can found in employment contracts, as well. As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan warned the last time the court's conservative justices permitted these types of "unconscionable agreements":
Here is the nutshell version of this case, unfortunately obscured in the Court's decision. The owner of a small restaurant (Italian Colors) thinks that American Express (Amex) has used its monopoly power to force merchants to accept a form contract violating the antitrust laws. The restaurateur wants to challenge the allegedly unlawful provision (imposing a tying arrangement), but the same contract's arbitration clause prevents him from doing so. That term imposes a variety of procedural bars that would make pursuit of the antitrust claim a fool's errand. So if the arbitration clause is enforceable, Amex has insulated itself from antitrust liability -- even if it has in fact violated the law. The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.
And here is the nutshell version of today's opinion, admirably flaunted rather than camouflaged: Too darn bad.
The Wall Street Journal called on Supreme Court justices to "vindicate federalism" by striking down health care subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but ignored the proven economic consequences such a ruling would have on the states, which has led the court in the past to refuse to inflict such harm because of those same federalist concerns.
At issue in the latest health care challenge, King v. Burwell, is whether ACA subsidies are available over the federal health care exchange website, which operates in 37 states. During oral arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concern that the challengers' interpretation of the law -- which would deny subsidies to upwards of eight million Americans -- might be unconstitutionally coercive to those states that declined to set up their own exchange. This coercion argument was at the heart of the last ACA challenge in 2012, when the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to threaten to deny money to states that refused to expand Medicaid, because the economic consequences would have been devastating.
In a March 5 editorial, the Journal argued that denying federal subsidies to states that refused to set up exchanges "is not the same" as denying federal funds to states that refuse to accept the Medicaid expansion. But in a brief to the Supreme Court, the states who have had to make both choices disagreed, and pointed out that the King challengers themselves had admitted this type of coercion was the same:
In [the 2012 health care challenge], the Court explained that cutting off all Medicaid funding to States that declined Medicaid expansion constituted "much more than relatively mild encouragement -- it is a gun to the head." It "crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion," serving "no purpose other than to force unwilling States" to comply. In the court of appeals, Petitioners argued that the scheme they attribute to Congress was "the same" in its coercive nature as one invalidated in . In this Court, Petitioners prefer understatement, saying that "Congress could quite reasonably believe that elected state officials would not want to explain to voters that they had deprived them of billions of dollars by failing to establish an Exchange." Either way, it is a novel kind of pressure to threaten to injure a State's citizens and to destroy its insurance markets in order to force State-government officials to implement a federal program.
To avoid the comparison, the Journal also downplayed the likely destabilization of the insurance markets in the event the federal tax credits are struck down, echoing a false claim from the King challengers' lawyer, Michael Carvin, who argued in court that there was "not a scintilla of evidence" that the health insurance market would enter a death spiral without the current subsidies. The Journal editorial argued that "in the 1980s and 1990s, eight states including Kentucky, Washington and New York imposed the same rules -- without subsidies. In other words, the regulations are supposedly valuable by themselves to achieve liberal policy goals."
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is adopting right-wing media's talking points yet again, this time implausibly claiming that the Republican-controlled "Congress would act" with an alternative if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act's health insurance tax credits.
On March 4, the justices heard King v. Burwell, a case that could make insurance subsidies unavailable to some Americans. At issue in the suit is whether a subclause in the law that says subsidies can be disbursed through "Exchanges established by the State" prohibits the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who bought insurance over the federal exchange. Despite the fact that experts agree that the law clearly makes the subsidies available to everyone, right-wing media have called on the Supreme Court to rule otherwise.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has repeatedly said that there is no contingency plan in the event of an adverse decision in King, and that there is no fix the administration can make to remedy the problem without inviting further legal challenges. Right-wing media jumped at Burwell's comments, criticizing the administration for not having a back-up plan while promoting a series of Republican "alternatives" should the court ultimately strike the subsidies down.
Conservative outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have done their part to push these plans by hosting numerous op-eds and segments with the authors of these questionable proposals. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) joined hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck to promote one such alternative. After Cassidy claimed that the Obama administration has "nothing to say" to consumers who might lose their subsidies, Doocy remarked that "the administration says they don't have a plan B, but apparently the Republicans do." National Review Online has also argued that the Republicans have a viable alternative plan, writing in a recent post that "Senate Republicans aren't leaving anything to chance" and that "there's some conservative intellectual firepower behind" their ideas.
As The Hill reported, these alternatives are "a direct appeal to the Supreme Court justices" that are "intended to make it easier for the court to strike down the subsidies, since Republicans believe the court is more likely to rule in their favor if it believes a plan is in place to limit the fallout."
The Wall Street Journal is once again promoting a right-wing challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by repeating misinformation about the case, calling on the Supreme Court to strike down some health care subsidies while falsely claiming the law's "plain text" renders them illegal.
On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a case that could block the availability of federal health care subsidies. The plaintiffs in King argue that because a subclause of the ACA states that subsidies are available "through Exchanges established by the State," consumers who buy insurance over the federal exchange aren't eligible to receive tax credits from the IRS to offset the cost. Without subsidies, people who live in one of the 37 states that don't operate their own health care exchange would be unable to afford insurance.
In a March 2 editorial, the Journal made its final pitch before oral arguments, calling the challenge an opportunity for "the Justices to vindicate the law's plain text." The editorial, like the challengers in King, ignored the context of the ACA as a whole and claimed that the decision to strike down the subsidies should be an easy call for the Supreme Court because the "English language is clear" and the law is unambiguous:
In King, the High Court will scrutinize this IRS decree using the traditional canons of statutory construction. The English language is clear: Congress wrote that subsidies would be available on state exchanges only, so Washington cannot deputize itself as the 51st state -- especially when the black-letter law is as consistent, tightly worded and cross-referenced as the Affordable Care Act.
To take one example, the Secretary of Health and Human Services was empowered to grant unlimited sums of money to states to establish exchanges. But the law appropriated not a penny for the federal exchanges, and HHS raided internal slush funds to build them. If there is no legal difference between the federal and state exchanges, why did HHS need this budget ruse?
ObamaCare's history shows Democrats made a deliberate choice. As they tried to assemble 60 votes in the Senate, holdouts like then Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson intensely desired state partners. Because the federal government couldn't commandeer the sovereign states by mandating participation, the subsidy bait was Congress's constitutional option to encourage buy-in.
The Journal's attempt to make the plaintiffs' case by arguing that the subsidies are illegal because the Department of Health and Human Services had to rely on a "budget ruse" to build the federal exchanges ignores the facts. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Republican-controlled Congress "repeatedly rejected the Obama administration's requests for additional funds" to implement the ACA, including those exchanges Republican-controlled states refused to set up.
Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL), praising the governor's plans to go after public-sector unions, but got some basic facts wrong in the process.
Rauner has quickly become a favorite among right-wing media figures, both during his gubernatorial campaign and since his election in November. The Wall Street Journal and National Review have also lauded Rauner for his February 9 executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from state employees they represent. Although state employees are not required to join, their union is nevertheless required to represent every state employee -- including nonmembers -- during contract negotiations. Without fair-share fees, nonmembers would get all the benefits of unionization without having to pay for it. Rauner's order would effectively institute "right-to-work" rules for state workers without the headache of getting approval from the Democratic majority in the state legislature first.
In his February 25 column, Will called Rauner's election "this century's most intriguing political experiment" and endorsed the governor's plan "to change Illinois's political culture of one-party rule by entrenched politicians subservient to public-sector unions." Will went on to support Rauner's executive order on union dues, but completely bungled basic facts about the order and the ongoing legal challenges surrounding it:
By executive order, Rauner has stopped the government from collecting "fair share" fees for unions from state employees who reject joining a union. This, he says, violates First Amendment principles by compelling people to subsidize speech with which they disagree. The unions might regret challenging this in federal court: If the case reaches the Supreme Court and it overturns the 1977 decision that upheld "fair shares," this would end the practice nationwide.
Rauner hopes to ban, as some states do, public employees unions from making political contributions, whereby they elect the employers with whom they negotiate their compensation. Rauner notes that an owner of a small firm that does business with Illinois's government is forbidden to make political contributions. Rauner also hopes to enable counties and local jurisdictions to adopt right-to-work laws, thereby attracting businesses that will locate only where there are such laws.
Fox News is reporting on an unsubstantiated rumor that the Obama administration has a "secret plan B" to deal with the fallout of an upcoming Supreme Court case that could invalidate tax credits for millions of Americans. But administration officials have repeatedly denied that such a plan exists -- and there is little the administration could do to restore the credits if the court strikes them down.
On March 4, the Supreme Court will hear King v. Burwell, a case that could block the availability of health care subsidies for consumers who purchased insurance over the federal exchange, which operates as the sole health insurance marketplace in the 37 states that don't operate their own. The lawsuit is based on a right-wing misinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that claims that the law allows the IRS to provide tax credits only to those who bought insurance over "Exchanges established by the State," and not the federal government. In addition to the congressional authors of the ACA, the vast majority of health and legal experts agree that this strained reading of the law is not only incorrect, but contrary to the way the Supreme Court generally interprets statutes -- as a whole, and in context.
Despite the lawsuit's clear flaws, right-wing media have acted as a booster for its potential to gut the ACA -- and only recently figured out that without the subsidies, millions of Americans would be faced with ruinous health care costs. As The New York Times explained, "if the court decides to limit federal tax credits, the result could essentially be the creation of two American health care systems. The haves -- in mostly Democratic states -- may not be impacted, while the have-nots -- in 37 mostly red states -- could face spiraling costs."
But now Republicans are attempting to shift the blame to the Obama administration by claiming that the administration actually does have a super-secret contingency plan, and multiple statements to the contrary are an effort "to influence the court ahead of the March 4 arguments," according to The Hill.
Even though the administration has said that there is no such plan -- secret or otherwise -- Fox News was happy to pass along this unsubstantiated rumor on the February 26 edition of America's Newsroom. In a report about a congressional hearing on the ACA, Fox's Doug McKelway stated that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell would be facing questions about the administration's "contingency plans" if the tax credits are struck down. McKelway went on to report that "there are rumors circulating that senior HHS officials do have a secret plan B should the Supreme Court rule against Obamacare":