In its continued opposition to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a proposed amendment to this historic law, The Wall Street Journal published a misleading op-ed by Hans von Spakovsky, an unreliable contributor to the National Review Online.
The op-ed of von Spakovsky, a right-wing activist who has called the "modern 'civil rights' movement" indistinguishable from "discriminators and segregationists of prior generations" and whose attempts to fearmonger about "virtually non-existent" voter fraud have been repeatedly discredited, followed a WSJ editorial that compared the bipartisan attempts of Congress to update the VRA with that of "Jim Crow era Southerners."
Although this new effort to strengthen the VRA through the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has prominent Republican support, von Spakovsky claimed "[t]his bill really isn't about the [Supreme Court's recent Shelby County v. Holder] decision. It is about having the federal government manipulate election rules to propagate racial gerrymandering and guarantee success for Democratic candidates." From the WSJ op-ed, which defended the conservative justices' gutting of the VRA in Shelby County and smeared the subsequent bipartisan efforts to repair the damage:
Before Shelby County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states to get "preclearance" from the federal government before making any voting changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old turnout data that did not reflect contemporary conditions. Census Bureau data show that black-voter turnout is on a par with or exceeds that of white voters in many of the formerly covered states and is higher than the rest of the country. We simply don't need Section 5 anymore.
In Shelby County, a radical break from precedent that has been described by experts as "on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America," the bitterly divided Supreme Court struck at the heart of the VRA's efficacy by dismantling its "preclearance" process.
Even as the conservatives did so, however, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly told Congress to fix this formula that requires covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit election changes for federal review before implementation. Contrary to von Spakovsky's strange assertion that "this bill really isn't about" Shelby County and is "an attempt to circumvent" the decision, this new bipartisan legislation is actually a direct response to Roberts' invitation to Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
Admittedly, this new formula is more complex than von Spakovsky's preferred method of determining voter suppression by "turnout data," a confusion between correlation and causation that has been described as a rudimentary failure of "Statistics 101." Rather, Section 5 of the VRA imposes the preclearance process on jurisdictions with an incorrigible track record of suppressing votes based on race, and the formula to determine this discrimination has been changed in the new legislation to incorporate a comprehensive and rolling 15-year record.
The claim of the op-ed that the old formula led to "unwarranted objections" on the part of the Department of Justice toward alleged voter suppression is also inaccurate; this preclearance mechanism has been extremely effective at stopping racially discriminatory election changes. In fact, the two cases that von Spakovsky highlights both involved Section 5 successes.
Abandoning any pretense at understanding civil rights precedent or the bipartisan-supported Voting Rights Act (VRA), The Wall Street Journal condemned as "racial mischief" Congress' recent attempt to update this historic law pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent and explicit instructions.
In last year's bitterly split opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted the most effective part of the Voting Rights Act - the "preclearance" formula by which jurisdictions with an incorrigible record of voter suppression must submit election changes to federal review before implementation. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
On January 16, Congress did just that and submitted bipartisan legislation to update the previous formula, which itself was an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort signed into law by former President George W. Bush. In a February 3 editorial, however, the WSJ declared this legislation comparable to the efforts of "Jim Crow era Southerners" and declared "Congress should let it die":
Never underestimate Congress's ability for racial mischief. In the Jim Crow era Southerners blocked civil-rights progress. Now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states.
Democrats and the strange bedfellow of Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner have introduced a bill to revise Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down last year. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Act's coverage formula no longer made sense in light of current racial realities, and the new proposal isn't much better.
The good news is that the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Senator Pat Leahy and endorsed in his State of the Union by President Obama, specifically exempts voter ID laws from the actions that could be counted as a demerit against the state's voting-rights record. That's a repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's politically motivated campaign against voter ID, and perhaps that's why Mr. Sensenbrenner came on board.
But that concession isn't worth the broader political intrusion that the new proposal would allow. The Voting Rights Act's current provisions still provide ample federal enforcement when local politicians limit minority rights. Federal preclearance was an extraordinary exception to the Constitution's command of equal treatment under the law, and the country's racial progress shows it is no longer needed. Congress should let it die.
The WSJ may be puzzled, but there is nothing "strange" about the fact that conservative Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is leading Republican support for the latest renewal of the VRA. Support for the VRA and its preclearance mechanism - including the formula for determining covered jurisdictions - has historically been strongly bipartisan.
Sensenbrenner was the GOP's legislative leader the last time the VRA was reauthorized in 2006, when Congress passed updates to the preclearance formula by majorities of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. As former President Ronald Reagan had done before him with the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA (another bipartisan effort, also involving Sensenbrenner), Bush publicly and proudly signed into law the 2006 preclearance mechanism that Republicans (many still in Congress) overwhelmingly supported. The current bill is specifically crafted to repeat such long-standing bipartisan support, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stated that his "experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all ... I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."
The WSJ not only botches civil rights law history, it also botches the substance of the new amendment.
Right-wing media have sunk to new lows in smears against President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) top official Debo Adegbile, a highly-qualified and widely praised civil rights litigator who has been senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The New York Times profiled a highly-secretive "collection of perhaps 1,500 right-leaning players in the entertainment industry" whose belated application for non-profit status may be complicated by their seemingly partisan affiliation with political candidates and figures, possible campaign activity that is prohibited. Notably, the Times missed a significant inclusion on this list of right-wing stars: Justice Antonin Scalia.
The group's application for a 501(c)(3) designation, a tax status for non-partisan groups that would allow donors to claim deductions, is currently being scrutinized because its claim that it "has absolutely no political agenda" is at odds with its record of hosting right-wing media and officials, according to the January 22 Times article. Unmentioned by the Times, listed on his most recent annual Financial Disclosure Report (CY 2012), Scalia also gave an August 25, 2012, speech to Friends of Abe and received reimbursement for his "transportation, food, and lodging." From the Times:
[T]he Internal Revenue Service is reviewing the group's activities in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. Last week, federal tax authorities presented the group with a 10-point request for detailed information about its meetings with politicians like Paul D. Ryan, Thaddeus McCotter and Herman Cain, among other matters, according to people briefed on the inquiry.
Tax experts said that an organization's membership list is information that would not typically be required. The I.R.S. already had access to the site's basic levels, a request it considers routine for applications for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Friends of Abe -- the name refers to Abraham Lincoln -- has strongly discouraged the naming of its members. That policy even prohibits the use of cameras at group events, to avoid the unwilling identification of all but a few associates -- the actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer, or the writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, for instance -- who have spoken openly about their conservative political views.
The I.R.S. request comes in the face of a continuing congressional investigation into the agency's reviews of political nonprofits, most of them conservative-leaning, which provoked outrage on the right and forced the departure last year of several high-ranking I.R.S. officials. But unlike most of those groups, which had sought I.R.S. approval for a mix of election campaigning and nonpartisan issue advocacy, Friends of Abe is seeking a far more restrictive tax status, known as 501(c)(3), that would let donors claim a tax deduction, but strictly prohibits any form of partisan activity.
While tax-exempt groups are permitted to invite candidates to speak at events, it is not uncommon for the I.R.S. to scrutinize such activities to determine whether they cross the line into partisan election activity. One issue is whether the organization invites all the qualified candidates.
"The I.R.S. would say that if you are inviting only conservative candidates, that's a problem," said Marcus S. Owens, a former director of the I.R.S.'s exempt organizations division. "But it's never really been litigated."
National Review Online (NRO) managed to inaccurately report the findings of a Kaiser Health News article on primarily Spanish-speaking enrollees in California's health insurance exchange as applicable to all Latinos.
For California's health insurance marketplace to succeed, younger and healthier uninsured persons must enroll to balance the risk pool, a demographic that is significantly Latino. Accordingly, health care reform advocates were concerned when October enrollment numbers revealed that only 3 percent of new consumers "spoke primarily Spanish," an indication that outreach to the Hispanic community may be lagging.
NRO, however, inaccurately cited Kaiser Health News' report that "fewer than 1,000 signed up" by conflating this number of primarily Spanish-speaking Californians with all Latinos in general. From NRO:
Fewer than 1,000 Latinos signed up for Obamacare in California in the law's first month, about 3 percent of the state's 31,000 enrollees.
That's an alarming number for a state where Latinos make up approximately 60 percent of the uninsured population, and it comes in spite of nonprofits and Covered California, the state's health-care exchange, spending millions on advertising and outreach to Latinos.
Such efforts don't appear to be getting it done; there are simply too many other hurdles to enrolling Spanish-speakers. The Spanish-language version of the Covered California website has asked security questions in English and misspelled Spanish words like "si" ("sí" is Spanish for "yes," but "si" means "if"), according to Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment, a philanthropy organization making efforts to enroll Latinos.
Calling the exchange's hotline is unlikely to help Latinos, either; the telephone system has given English prompts to Spanish-speakers. It lacks enough bilingual operators and the average wait-time is 18 minutes, as well. If Latinos don't want to apply over the phone or Internet, they're in a jam; Spanish paper applications won't be available until mid-December.
Slow Latino enrollment in California's new insurance exchange certainly is alarming. Some Latinos have limited English proficiency. These percentages are not interchangeable, however, as not all Latinos are primarily Spanish-speaking.
In fact, based on the 2009 American Community Survey, it is estimated that 3/4 of the Latino population speak English, 1/2 are bilingual, and 1/4 speak English only. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2020, the number of Latinos who only speak English at home will rise to 34% of the population.
It is laudable that NRO is suddenly concerned about the uninsurance problem among Latinos and the Affordable Care Act. In discussing solutions to enrollment problems, however, perpetuating stereotypes about Latinos' ability to speak English doesn't help.
Absurd smears against a highly-qualified judicial nominee for her support of family planning, sex equality, and conservative attempts to dismantle gender stereotypes made the jump from right-wing blogs to the Fox News Channel.
On November 25, Fox News' Shannon Bream correctly reported that the former Connecticut attorney general, among a wide collection of bipartisan legal experts, supports the nomination of the eminently qualified Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. Unfortunately, Bream proceeded to repeat right-wing media myths accusing Pillard of "radical feminis[m]" and hosted National Review Online contributor Carrie Severino to recycle the smears. From America's Newsroom, with co-host Martha MacCallum:
MACCULLUM: What are the critics saying that are opposed to her?
BREAM: Well they say she is way out of the mainstream and she deserves a lot of scrutiny. Here's a bit of what she has said when writing about abortion issue. Here's a quote from one of her articles: "Anti-abortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce woman's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a 'vision of the woman's role' as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection." Here's Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
SEVERINO: Nina Pillard is probably the most extreme judge that has been nominated for this court and possibly for any court in the country. She has a very radical track record as a law professor, really seems to view everything from a radical feminist perspective, down to thinking that abstinence education violates the Equal Protection Clause and feeling like women are being objectified as breeders in the country.
BREAM: She has used that word referring to women as breeders if they are forced to carry pregnancies that they don't want to have. But at this point it looks like there is no blocking her, it is likely she will take a seat on that very important court.
Since Pillard was nominated, she has been subjected to sexist, retrograde, and false accusations that her views on reproductive rights are not in the mainstream. In fact, they are based on decades-old constitutional law, including a decision written by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
For example, the quote that Bream yanked out of context from a 2007 academic article in which Pillard noted that "antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a "vision of the woman's role" as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection[,]" is an explicit reference to the fact that justices on the Supreme Court have already incorporated equal protection principles into their reproductive rights precedent. Unmentioned by Bream, the quote was part of a discussion of the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.
The notion that damaging gender stereotypes can be at the core of restrictions on reproductive rights is also based on long-standing constitutional precedent.
CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash repeated the right-wing myth that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguably the second most important court in the country, is currently "evenly split" and inaccurately reported that the blanket filibusters preventing up-or-down votes on President Barack Obama's judicial nominees are "sacrosanct."
In the wake of a flurry of filibusters of the president's highly-qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Democrats appear to have finally convinced holdouts in their caucus that Senate Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism of judicial and executive nominees is unacceptable. Unfortunately, in reporting on this development that a change to the Senate rules may finally have enough votes to pass, CNN's Bash uncritically repeated right-wing media's dissembling justifications for the GOP blockade. From the November 19 edition of the Situation Room:
BASH: As you well know, Senate filibusters require 60 votes to overcome and it's a pretty high hurdle in a politically divided Senate but the ability to filibuster has been sacrosanct, neither party has dared take that power away from the minority. But Democrats are so frustrated right now that they can't get the president's nominees confirmed, they are once again threatening to do just that, the nuclear option.
BASH: But unlike other partisan brawls over the course, this is not about qualifications or ideology of the nominees. It's about the makeup of the court itself. The D.C. Circuit, the powerful federal appeals court that hears most challenges to laws passed by Congress, now evenly split, four judges appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. And the GOP wants to keep it that way.
BASH: Republicans argue the D.C. Circuit workload isn't heavy enough to need three more judges. They say Democrats are the ones playing politics.
To her credit, Bash does correctly note that Republicans cannot muster legitimate criticisms of the actual nominees. But by failing to recognize the inaccuracy of their alternate reasons for filibustering these highly-qualified nominees anyway, she inadvertently gives legitimacy to bogus right-wing media rationales and minimizes the historic nature of this rampant obstructionism.
Immediately after President Barack Obama nominated the highly-qualified and widely respected Debo Adegbile to be the next assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, right-wing media attacked this top lawyer of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for purportedly being a "racialist."
Writing on an obscure right-wing blog, J. Christian Adams, a frequent Fox News guest who served in the highly politicized and disgraced Bush-era DOJ and "whose claim to fame as a federal lawyer seems to be his penchant for accusing black people of discriminating against whites," accused Adegbile of "racialis[m]" and the venerable NAACP Legal Defense Fund of a "radical racial agenda." From a November 14 post on Pajamas Media:
Adegbile hails from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an organization that has pushed a radical racial agenda including attacks on election integrity measures, opposition to criminal background checks for hiring, and racial hiring quotas for state and local governments.
Adegbile's name was mentioned as a possible nominee to the federal bench. Because of his advocacy for racialist policies, such a nomination would face serious confirmation difficulties. But in Eric Holder's Justice Department, nakedly racialist policies are standard fare, and Adegbile will fit right in.
This is an an-your-face nomination. This is the White House sending a message to Republicans and conservatives that the radical racial policies of the Justice Department will continue full speed ahead.
[I]n the Obama Justice Department, the law is not as important as the cause. And with Adegbile, the cause is racialist.
In another context, the venue and content of this thinly-veiled insinuation of so-called reverse racism could be easily ignored. Unfortunately, on the topic of executive and judicial nominees of the current president, Adams' attack is disturbingly similar to the same sort of race-baiting that jumps from little-read blogs to prominent right-wing platforms like Fox News, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, and even the mouths of GOP congressmen engaged in the ongoing blanket filibustering of the president's diverse nominees.
Accusing select presidential nominees of racialism or anti-white bias is a tired page of right-wing media's playbook against those who litigate and uphold longstanding civil rights precedent, a body of law that tends to help most those systematically disadvantaged by racism. This rant has been directed with more or less subtlety at Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (who previously led the DOJ's Civil Rights Division), Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Assumedly, these charges have some sort of salience with those unfamiliar with American history and basic civil rights law.
The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal attacked constitutional race-conscious admissions policies in higher education, but completely botched Supreme Court precedent as well as the Department of Justice's current legal position on this topic.
Trying to drive a wedge between Justice Anthony Kennedy's recent majority opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, which reaffirmed that considering race as one among many factors in a holistic admissions policy is constitutional, and DOJ's recent legal brief in the now-remanded case, the WSJ declared that Kennedy "is getting an unpleasant lesson in the Obama Administration's respect for Supreme Court authority." From the November 11 WSJ, timed for Wednesday's oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit:
In June, Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for a 7-1 majority in Fisher and remanded it for a rehearing. His opinion stopped short of ending racial preferences in education, but it did emphasize that the use of race in admissions had to be held to the "strict scrutiny" standard laid out in the 2003 University of Michigan case Grutter v. Bollinger. Under Fisher, Justice Kennedy explained, race preferences should be carefully drawn and universities were entitled to "no deference" when courts examined how colleges used race in admissions.
So much for that. According to the Justice Department's brief, strict scrutiny needn't be strict, or even amount to much scrutiny.
[R]ather than looking at percentages of students of varying races admitted or matriculating, the Justice Department argues, the court should make "a qualitative assessment of the educational experience of the university." This is the admissions version of a shell game, dodging the Supreme Court's explicit strict scrutiny instructions by letting a school define its own criteria for using race.
But the Supreme Court never held that universities are accorded "no deference" in judicial review of their consideration of whether and how to diversify their institutions through race-conscious admissions policies, and DOJ never denied the appropriateness of strict scrutiny for this use of race.
Under long-standing affirmative action law, educational institutions can constitutionally use the consideration of race among other characteristics in an individualized holistic review of applicants. As reaffirmed by Fisher, contrary to the WSJ's inaccurate claim, when a university is deciding whether or not its diversity is at the "critical mass" necessary for its educational mission, a court's deference to educational judgment on this evaluation is entirely appropriate. From Kennedy's Fisher opinion:
According to Grutter, a university's "educational judgment that such diversity is essential to its educational mission is one to which we defer." Grutter concluded that the decision to pursue "the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity," that the University deems integral to its mission is, in substantial measure, an academic judgment to which some, but not complete, judicial deference is proper under Grutter. A court, of course, should ensure that there is a reasoned, principled explanation for the academic decision. On this point, the District Court and Court of Appeals were correct in finding that Grutter calls for deference to the University's conclusion, "`based on its experience and expertise,'" that a diverse student body would serve its educational goals.
Washington Post columnist Charles Lane recycled erroneous Fox News claims about California's new TRUST Act, which details how state officials can constitutionally participate in federal immigration policy.
On October 21, Lane provided misleading talking points to right-wing media on the topic of an appellate judge's recent admission that strict voter ID has proven to be voter suppression. A week later, the exchange was reversed, with Lane repeating debunked misinformation on the TRUST Act previously broadcast by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
In his most recent column, Lane falsely claimed that the TRUST Act was "in tension" with the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States, which reaffirmed long-standing Supremacy Clause precedent that forbids state law from conflicting with federal immigration law. Like O'Reilly's confused analysis before him, this is a conflation of the unconstitutional attempts of Arizona to usurp federal immigration powers with the separate - and unchallenged - constitutional justification behind the TRUST Act. From the October 29 edition of the Post:
California's new law limits cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program, under which the fingerprints of arrestees that local police routinely send to the FBI also get routed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When ICE registers a "hit" against its database, it tells the state or local jail to hold the individual for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can pursue deportation if appropriate. Between March 2008 and September 2011, Secure Communities led to more than 142,000 deportations.
California's new law forbids police to detain anyone under Secure Communities unless the individual has been convicted of or formally charged with certain serious crimes such as murder or bribery -- but not, say, misdemeanor drunk driving.
It's the mirror image of a provision of Arizona's immigration law that essentially required Arizona police officers to check with ICE about everyone they arrested. The Obama administration opposed that as unwanted and unnecessary meddling in federal decision making -- but it was the only aspect of Arizona's crackdown that the Supreme Court upheld.
So: If the Supreme Court says that one state (Arizona) may pester federal immigration authorities with more information about detainees than they asked for, can another state (California) deny the feds information they might seek?
But the surviving provision in Arizona's troubled immigration law (SB 1070) mentioned by Lane involved communication between state and federal officials, whereas the TRUST Act delineates immigration detention powers. These are two entirely separate areas of enforcement underpinned by separate legal justifications.
Contrary to Lane's argument, that is not a "mirror image."