The New York Times highlighted Republican efforts to prevent the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from functioning, in part by leveraging a recent DC Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that drastically limits the president's power to make recess appointments. But the Times understated the decision's role in continuing GOP obstructionism, even as the corporate lobby appears ready to take advantage of it to undo consumer and labor protections.
In Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board, a panel of the extremely conservative judicial circuit responsible for reviewing checks on corporate power issued a decision that rolled back decades of case law on presidential recess appointments. Although the case was nominally about one company's challenge to an adverse NLRB decision through a claim that the recess appointments of two board members were illegitimate, the ensuing opinion was so overbroad that the threat to other recess appointments - such as that of the current CFPB director - was immediately apparent.
In reference to Noel Canning's effect on the CFPB, the Times editorialized:
The bureau cannot operate without a director. Under the Dodd-Frank law, most of its regulatory powers -- particularly its authority over nonbanks like finance companies, debt collectors, payday lenders and credit agencies -- can be exercised only by a director. Knowing that, Republicans used a filibuster to prevent President Obama's nominee for director, Richard Cordray, from reaching a vote in 2011. Mr. Obama then gave Mr. Cordray a recess appointment, but a federal appeals court recently ruled in another case that the Senate was not in recess at that time because Republicans had arranged for sham sessions.
That opinion, if upheld by the Supreme Court, is likely to apply to Mr. Cordray as well, which could invalidate the rules the bureau has already enacted. The president has renominated Mr. Cordray, but Republicans have made it clear that they will continue to filibuster, using phony arguments to keep the agency from operating.
Rush Limbaugh promoted the accusation that Democrats were using The New York Times to pressure the Supreme Court into rejecting the current constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which he claimed would fuel Democratic voter fraud. But Limbaugh ignored the fact that support for the Voting Rights Act has historically been, and currently is, bipartisan and the odds of in-person voter fraud are rarer than getting "struck by lightning."
During the February 5 edition of his show, Limbaugh aired a segment titled, "Democrats Move to Make Voter Fraud Easier," in which he declined to get into the "specifics" of the actual case, instead alleging a partisan conspiracy was underway to "facilitate Democrats winning elections" through "fraud." Among other inaccuracies, Limbaugh apparently was unaware of the accounts of voters unable to exercise the franchise, the eleven states that already permit election day voter registration, the "correlation-causation" fallacy of assuming greater turnout means voter suppression does not exist, and the fact that in-person voter fraud - the rationale behind requiring unnecessary and redundant photo ID - is a myth.
Instead, he attacked a New York Times article that reported a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis of the 2012 election that concluded "blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites":
RUSH: So what is this all about? Well, you have come to the right place. This article is motivated by three things. First, the Supreme Court is about to rule on the Voting Rights Act in a few weeks, so the New York Times is leaning on them. The New York Times knows that the justices of the Supreme Court value the opinion of reporters and editors at the New York Times. And so the Times is getting its marker down on what it wants the court to do in relationship to this Voting Rights Act case that's coming up. And without getting into specifics, what they want the justices to do is find it possible, make it possible for more Democrats to vote, make it easier for more Democrats to vote.
Notice there's nothing here about Republicans being in these long lines. The whole premise of the story, long lines equal long waits, equals people leaving the line and going home and not voting, which equals lost votes for the Democrats, which equals, "We can't have that." And so the Voting Rights Act case, without getting into specifics of it, the New York Times is putting down a marker for the justices so that they can keep in mind what's really important about the Voting Rights Act, and that is to do whatever is necessary in their ruling to make it possible for fraud to continue, to make it possible for registration and voting on the same day, same place, to take place, to happen, or whatever is necessary to facilitate Democrats winning elections.
The media should be aware of the Voting Rights Act's historic importance for all communities of color, particularly the "awakened" Latino vote, and not simply report that it is a black and white issue of importance only to African-Americans. While a significant number of amicus (friend of the court) briefs filed in Shelby County v. Holder - the Voting Rights Act challenge that the Supreme Court will hear February 27 - focus on the struggle for African-Americans' right to vote, a diverse range of civil rights advocates have joined the effort to uphold the law.
Hispanic civil rights advocates - in addition to advocates for Asian Americans and Indian Nations - are briefing the Supreme Court on the continued importance of the Voting Rights Act in the face of well-documented voter suppression against their communities. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to "pre-clear" changes to their election practices with the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. Led by a small Alabama county, Southern states are challenging Section 5's constitutionality - arguing, in part, that it unfairly singles them out and is outdated - despite their long history of voter suppression on the basis of race and national origin.
USA Today recently reported on the pushback against this ahistorical claim, noting that in response to Shelby County's attempt to strike down "the heart" of the Voting Rights Act, long-time African-American participants in the struggle for the right to vote in Alabama filed multiple amicus briefs in support of the law. USA Today did not, however, report the perspectives of other voters of color, despite the fact that the Southern and Southwestern Latino population has not only skyrocketed, but has also been the victim of extensive state-sponsored discrimination.
National media tend to assume conservative Justice Antonin Scalia's vote in the upcoming Voting Rights Act case - Shelby County v. Holder - is a foregone conclusion because of his decisions on other questions that involve race, such as school desegregation. But Scalia's approach to remedies for impermissible racial discrimination, the harm that the Voting Rights Act addresses, has respected prior rulings and Congressional action, a noteworthy position considering the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act has been repeatedly upheld.
To be clear: traditional swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy is more amenable to legislation and policies that take race into account than Justice Scalia. Unlike Scalia, Kennedy has explicitly disavowed Chief Justice John Roberts' radical request that the Court refuse to approve any government recognition of race, ever. Therefore, it is understandable that the media focuses on Kennedy when speculating over which conservative Justice might uphold the "preclearance" provision within the Voting Rights Act - Section 5 - that requires states with a history of racial discrimination submit election practice changes for federal review and approval.
For example, The New York Times reported the reasons that Kennedy, who has rejected the ahistorical "colorblind" approach to constitutional law even as he struck down specific school integration plans, might also reject the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5:
The issue in Shelby County is whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, viewed as the nation's most effective civil rights law, remains necessary to prevent racially biased voting laws in nine states and parts of seven others with egregious histories of discrimination against minority voters.
In the Shelby County case, as a federal trial court and a federal appeals court found, there is no room for equivocation [as in recent school desegregation cases]. If Justice Kennedy votes to strike down Section 5, he will be calling a halt to an unfinished effort to end what the Supreme Court once called "an insidious and pervasive evil."
Congress gathered an enormous amount of evidence in 2006 about the persistence of voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions. It found that discrimination was still heavily concentrated in those places and so widespread that case-by-case litigation -- what Justice Kennedy has called "very expensive," "very long" and "very inefficient" -- is inadequate.
Without Section 5, from 1968 through 2004 more than 1,500 discriminatory voting changes would have gone into effect. And last year, Section 5 blocked attempts to discriminate against voters in many parts of the country.
In an interview with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly ignored key legal problems for photo voter ID laws under the Voting Rights Act and dismissed concerns of voter suppression, claiming in-person voter fraud was a problem.
On the January 29 edition of the O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly hosted Powell to discuss "racial politics," voter suppression, and voter fraud, but failed to provide important context, including any mention of a crucial Voting Rights Act case set to be argued before the Supreme Court on February 27. In part, this case will turn on the historic civil rights law's efficacy at preventing the type of race-based voter suppression Powell described.
The problem that recent photo voter ID laws purport to address - voter fraud committed in person - is "virtually non-existent." Nevertheless, in the past two years, state Republican legislators and right-wing allies have aggressively pushed such laws that add another identification requirement for voting, even though voter identification is already required across the country. Under the Voting Rights Act, federal courts have recently confirmed that new voter ID laws in jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression have a prohibited effect on African-American and Hispanic voters.
O'Reilly refused to acknowledge any of these facts in his interview with Powell, even as Powell tried to explain them to him:
The Wall Street Journal recently joined Fox News in attempting to rewrite a radical and unprecedented federal appellate court opinion to fit their caricature of a "lawless" President Obama. But even as a WSJ editorial picks up Fox News' misrepresentation of the appellate court's sweeping decision on the constitutional legitimacy of presidential recess appointments as a narrow swipe at Obama, the Fox-fueled version is starting to unravel.
On January 29, the WSJ published an editorial that claimed "the latest disdain for the Constitution's checks and balances" was the Obama administration's response to a recent outlier opinion of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision broke with centuries of practice and case law by holding presidents can only make recess appointments when both a vacancy and appointment occur in-between congressional sessions. Specifically, the WSJ was offended that the National Labor Relations Board accurately pointed out the opinion was technically limited to the party that brought the case - despite its serious implications for all other similarly situated plaintiffs - and not only was it not currently in effect, it might be overturned on appeal. From the WSJ editorial, which accused the NLRB of planning to "ignore" the opinion:
So, let's see. First, President Obama bypasses the Senate's advice and consent power by making "recess" appointments while the Senate was in pro-forma session specifically to prevent recess appointments. Then when a federal court rules the recess appointments illegal, the NLRB declares that it will keep doing business as if nothing happened.
Without Mr. Obama's illegal appointments, the board would have been without a quorum and unable to decide a single case. That lawless behavior means more than 200 of the NLRB's rulings in the past year are in limbo. It's bad enough to force those 200 litigants to appeal rulings that are sure to be overturned. But the board wants to keep issuing new rulings though it now knows that a unanimous appeals court has declared them illegal, pending a Supreme Court review that may never happen.
In their rush to frame a federal appellate court opinion as a personal rebuke of President Obama, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent guest Jay Sekulow misrepresented the truly radical and unprecedented nature of a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on presidential recess appointments. Although Kelly and Sekulow erroneously reported that the opinion only affects Obama's recess appointment of members to the National Labor Relations Board, it actually casts doubt on hundreds of presidential appointments and subsequent actions since the 1940s.
On the January 25 edition of America Live, Kelly repeatedly reported that the DC Circuit "clipped President Obama's wings" by holding the Republican-controlled Senate was actually in session when Obama made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, pursuant to long-standing presidential powers. The NLRB is, of course, a frequent bogeyman for both right-wing media and corporate interests because of its perceived favorability to unions. Kelly and Sekulow, who filed an amicus brief in the case as Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the decision's holding depended on the fact that the Senate was technically in session because of a new parliamentary trick that gavels the Senate into "pro forma session" even though no business is conducted. This is inaccurate.
Described as the crown jewel of civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act has been the target of right-wing misinformation for decades, and a parallel legal assault against its constitutionality will be argued before the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder on February 27. The VRA, enacted to stem voter suppression on the basis of race in the South, contains a provision within it - Section 5 - which identifies the worst historical offenders and requires that election changes in those jurisdictions pass federal review. The current legal challenges to the VRA focus on Section 5, and are the continuation of the same discredited claims lodged against this anti-discrimination law since its inception.
As soon as President Obama's new recommendations for gun violence prevention became public, right-wing media immediately claimed the president was issuing an executive action requiring doctors to ask patients about their guns. This is false. The president's released proposals only clarify that nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes longstanding law: doctors are still free (but not required) to discuss with their patients any health hazards, including a lack of gun safety at home or elsewhere.
Among the White House proposals for gun violence reduction, the president announced that the administration will "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes." Nowhere in his proposal did he instead require doctors to ask about guns. The Drudge Report, however, immediately splashed across its website this graphic:
Rush Limbaugh picked up on this flatly inaccurate claim that the president required doctors to ask their patients about "gun ownership." Rather than explain the president's executive action only indicated future orders, regulations, or guidance will clarify that no law - including the ACA - prohibits them from discussing gun safety with their patients, Limbaugh reported it as a new directive that "deputizes gun-snitch doctors":
RUSH: So now doctors are being ordered, instructed to talk to patients and get information from them about gun ownership, where they are in their house, who has access to them, where the ammunition is kept. Doctors are now, quote, unquote, "permitted," unquote, to do this. It makes 'em deputies, agents of the state.
RUSH: They're trying to bring a screeching halt to the effort to stop the instances of doctor-patient relationship where the doctor gains the information and passes it on. That's why the reference to Obamacare. If you go back and read Obamacare, despite what the president said in his little release today Obamacare does limit the government when it comes to gun in terms of doctors and what they can collect. They're now trying to reverse that. That's what this is about today. They're trying to stop any effort that would change what's already in place, which is doctors reporting on citizens via patient conferences.
RUSH: Yep, and people are getting upset with it. They never have liked it. This section in Obamacare, it's too much legalese to read to you. But the summary of it is it does in fact limit what data the authorities can collect from patients, what information the doctors can collect from patients and report to the authorities. That section in Obamacare was put in by the NRA. It was a sop given to the NRA. What the regime is doing today is, A, saying, "No, it's not really there; Obamacare does not prevent this," when it does, and, "It doesn't matter anyway because we're now gonna require it even more than we already have."
Limbaugh concedes that the executive action doesn't literally say that doctors are required to ask about gun safety, but rather, in his interpretation, "the executive action today is almost essentially requiring it." The president's proposal was likely a direct response to these types of wildly erroneous interpretations of the health care reform law and executive orders that were already floating around the right-wing blogosphere, before Limbaugh added his analysis. For example, on January 9, a Breitbart.com writer claimed the ACA says "the government cannot use doctors to collect 'any information relating to the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition.'" But the relevant provisions within the health care reform law are explicitly limitations on what the secretary of Health and Human Services can do, not "the government" at large, and nowhere is there a prohibition on doctors inquiring about gun safety. In fact, such a prohibition has been held to be an unconstitutional violation of a doctor's First Amendment rights. As explained by the White House proposal released today:
Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions. The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.
The administration is basing their interpretation on the text and intent of the law itself. The amendment may indeed have been a last-minute lobbying success for the NRA, but right-wing media inflate its reach in addition to their false claims about what the president actually did today. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[t]here are some who believe the health-care law outlaws doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes. But that's not true." From Kaiser Health News:
Did you know the Affordable Care Act stands up for gun rights? The "Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights" section says the health law's wellness programs can't require participants to give information about guns in the house. It also keeps the Department of Health and Human Services from collecting data on gun use and stops insurance companies from denying coverage or raising premiums on members because of gun use.
The massacre in Newtown, Conn., renews the controversy about whether gun violence is a public health issue. Should health authorities view guns in the same category as pneumonia and car crashes? The debate has been going on for years, with epidemiologists arguing firearms can kill just as many as a bad flu season and gun-rights advocates viewing any attention from public health officials as a step toward gun confiscation -- the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment.
The ACA language, which does not prohibit doctors from inquiring about guns in the household, was included at the request of Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and a gun rights supporter. Reid's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The language was inserted after the act cleared the Senate Finance Committee and before it was voted on by the full Senate.
The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.
In reporting that North Carolina is likely to enact a voter ID law that was vetoed by the former governor, the Associated Press failed to acknowledge the relationship between Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and photo requirements that threaten the right to vote. Federal courts have found voter ID laws with photo requirements to be impermissible under Section 5, which bars states with a history of racial discrimination from changing election practices absent federal review.
Voter ID is a top priority for North Carolina Republicans, who gained control of both executive and legislative branches during the November state elections. Although the AP noted the opposition to this legislation, it reported it as a partisan counterargument:
[New Republican Governor] Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders pledged that if elected, they would undo vetoes from Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue that GOP legislators could not override because they lacked enough votes.
At the top of the list was the 2011 bill requiring voters to show photo identification to cast ballots in person.
North Carolina Republicans have said they wanted the photo ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections and discourage voter fraud. But Democrats and civil rights groups have accused Republicans of passing voter ID because many people who don't have photo identification - the poor and minorities - disproportionately vote Democratic. They say that fraud is extremely rare and that photo ID would erode voting rights expanded over the past 50 years.
The extreme rarity of in-person voter fraud is a fact, not just a Democratic rebuttal to the types of voter ID laws recently proposed by state Republicans across the country. Furthermore, federal judges who examined these laws under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the run-up to the 2012 elections issued extensive findings that these laws can impermissibly disenfranchise voters of color. Nevertheless, the AP reported these points as partisan opinion, in the same fashion it commented that "Democrats and civil rights groups" maintain photo ID laws "erode voting rights expanded over the past 50 years."
Voting rights have been protected for the past 50 years because of the VRA, historic civil rights legislation that the AP did not mention. Section 5 of the VRA, which requires that changes to election practices - such as photo voter ID laws - by states with a history of racial discrimination first be reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice or a federal court, has been indispensable. Judges have noted this key role of Section 5 in fighting Jim Crow in opinions that halted impermissibly discriminatory voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas, a history referenced by former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue when she vetoed the voter ID law North Carolina Republicans are now poised to pass.
The relationship between Section 5 of the VRA and North Carolina is especially relevant because the state is partly covered by the provision, and was the source of a right-wing challenge to the law in Nix v. Holder. The Supreme Court accepted a similar challenge from Alabama, Shelby County v. Holder, and oral arguments on the fate of Section 5 are scheduled for February 27.
A full understanding of why voter ID is legally problematic, especially in North Carolina, is impossible without discussion of Section 5. Putting the North Carolina version in context is especially important for the media now that those states challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Supreme Court are also challenging the findings that their election practice changes illegally discriminated on the basis of race.
As the North Carolina voter ID law proceeds legislatively, the AP must discuss this clear overlap between those who continually push flawed voter ID laws and those who seek to do away with one of the most effective civil rights laws in American history. The stakes are high nationally, and certainly for North Carolina, as State Board of Election data show that nearly one in ten voters may be disenfranchised by the proposed photo voter ID law.