Right-wing media marked the Supreme Court's devastating Shelby County v. Holder decision by ignoring, trivializing, and downright misrepresenting its dire consequences for one of the most effective civil rights laws of all time, as well as for millions of American voters.
Tossing aside history, legal precedent, and congressional intent, the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 in Shelby County, a sharply split 5-4 opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts. In a twisted reading of this crown jewel of civil rights law, the conservative majority invalidated the provision within the VRA that prevents states and local jurisdictions from enacting racially discriminatory election practices, reasoning that this vital protection against voter suppression is instead an impermissible restriction on the highly dubious "equal sovereignty" of southern states.
Rather than acknowledge the documented voter suppression that the VRA has effectively and consistently kept at bay from the voting rights struggles of the civil rights era through the 2012 elections, right-wing media are echoing the Supreme Court's blow to the VRA, misrepresenting Shelby County as something other than an attack on the American right to vote.
Fox News host Jon Scott, in a Happening Now segment leading off Fox's coverage of the decision, chose to trivialize and confuse the radical decision as "the president took another shot you might say, a bit of a smackdown" by the Supreme Court. The consequences stretch much further than that.
Contrary to this horserace description, the VRA has never been a political manifestation of the executive. The VRA is rather Congress' chosen bipartisan method to effectuate the right to vote in the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, repeatedly updated and reauthorized because of incessant and ongoing voter suppression, and upheld as constitutional four separate times by the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, later in the day, Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano continued in the vein of his colleague by astonishingly asserting "nobody is seriously claiming today...that there is systematic efforts on the part of the government in the south to keep people of color from voting."
Instead, right-wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh chose to tout the decision as a victory against people who allegedly discriminate against whites, such as the "civil rights community" that wants "perpetual discrimination."
Right-wing media appear stunned as Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to join his more radical conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court and strike down affirmative action in higher education, instead reaffirming modern civil rights law that holds race-conscious admissions policies remain necessary for equal opportunity in today's society.
Kennedy's 7-1 majority opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is essentially the reiteration of his controlling analysis in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), which affirmed the constitutionality and continued necessity of race-conscious programs that seek to prevent the resegregation of public education.
In lockstep with conservative activists who are using the closely split Supreme Court as an opportunity to overturn decades of civil rights law, right-wing media have been repeatedly clamoring for the opposite of what just occurred in Fisher. So far, right-wing media coverage has been muted or is incorrectly pretending Kennedy's opinion breaks significant new ground.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly on America Live - in addition to dredging up the myth that the plaintiff in question was rejected in the admissions process because of her race - was shocked at Fisher's utterly unsurprising reminder that government's use of race typically requires strict scrutiny from the courts. From University of California Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky's leading treatise, Constitutional Law, Principles and Policies, most recently updated in 2006:
It now is clearly established that strict scrutiny is used to evaluate all government affirmative action plans. In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), the Supreme Court said: "[A]ll racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny." The Court reaffirmed that strict scrutiny is the test for affirmative action programs in its most recent cases, Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003).
In Fisher, Kennedy wrote for a near-universal Supreme Court that has now sent a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action program back down to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit because it had not correctly applied the Court's precedent in this area of equal protection law. As has been the law since 1978, upheld most recently in 2003, the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.
Right-wing media are repeating the wildly inaccurate claims of a political advertisement opposing a new police reform bill under consideration in New York City that attempts to bring the city's stop-and-frisk policy into constitutional compliance.
The captains union for the New York Police Department (NYPD) is currently promoting a ludicrous ad in opposition to the proposed Community Safety Act of the City Council of the City of New York. Upon release, the ad was immediately used as the June 19 front page of the New York Post, which dedicated an "exclusive" to the union's false claims that the police reform bill would "ban cops from identifying a suspect's age, gender, color or disability."
In fact, this bill would re-affirm the existing ban on illegal racial profiling by police, expand the class of protected groups, and provide previously unavailable avenues to litigation for civil rights abuses in state court. What the bill by its own terms explicitly would not do - contrary to the ad's depiction of a blindfolded police officer - is prohibit police from continuing to use race or any of the other protected group characteristics as part of a suspect's description. Rather, race and these other criteria cannot be the sole "determinative" factor proffered for a police stop of an individual, consistent with existing law. Absent other reasonable suspicion for the encounter, utilizing race alone as the reason for the police stop has long been illegal.
Following in the footsteps of the New York Post and CNN, however, right-wing media seemingly have not bothered to read the bill - or otherwise research the issue - and instead continue to base their entire analysis on the false ad.
Incorrectly describing the bill's rationale to be "identifying people by their identifying marks is offensive," the National Review Online quoted the Post's write-up of the ad and sarcastically wondered:
So, if a white male in his mid-thirties with a beard and a limp is wanted on suspicion of a crime, the police will be unable to broadcast that fact. Instead, they would have to say that they're looking for a person of undefined age, race, ability, and pogonic status -- and then describe his clothes. In a city of 7 million people, this will presumably work out perfectly, and it certainly won't lead to an increase in the frisking that the bill aims to reduce.
Fox News also repeated this blatant lie as straight news.
Fox News analyst Bernie Goldberg railed against long-standing employment discrimination law, mangling a civil rights doctrine to incorrectly claim the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking to prevent companies from screening job applicants for misdemeanor or felony convictions.
The EEOC recently filed complaints against a BMW facility in South Carolina and the retailer chain Dollar General because they allegedly conducted improper background checks that disproportionately affected workers and applicants of color, a possible violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This type of racial discrimination has been held to be impermissible by the Supreme Court since 1971 and was most recently acknowledged to be good law by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2010.
Goldberg, however, attacked the complaints, claiming "to most regular folks out there listening to us, this has to sound crazy, because there is no racial discrimination in any traditional sense." From the June 18 edition of America Live:
As mentioned by Goldberg, EEOC is using the disparate impact enforcement approach of Title VII, which can prohibit employment policies that have a disproportionate effect on the basis of race without an acceptable employer justification. Not only has the Supreme Court affirmed this antidiscrimination enforcement under Title VII since 1971, Congress explicitly codified the doctrine in 1991. Nevertheless, right-wing media continue to pretend this type of statistical analysis is improper and have repeatedly smeared the Department of Justice for utilizing this area of civil rights law.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney baselessly suggested non-citizens will now be compelled to vote as the "end result" of the Supreme Court's decision that Arizona cannot trump federal election law and make it harder for its citizens to register to vote.
In its 7-2 decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the Supreme Court rejected Arizona's argument that its state registration law is immune to the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, an "open and shut" decision authored by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia that was handed down only three months after oral arguments.
Varney, however, responded to the breaking news that the Court had struck down yet another unconstitutional Arizona law by claiming the decision would not only allow non-citizens to vote, they will now go forth and do so. His guest, Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, while admitting Arizona has a terrible record at enacting constitutional legislation, added to the misinformation by incorrectly asserting "the states decide what the standards are for voting." From the June 17 edition of Varney & Company:
National Review Online continues to hype and misrepresent a dubious lawsuit against the current deferred action policy for certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children, trying to insert it into the Congressional debate on immigration reform.
NRO has repeatedly and uncritically promoted this legal challenge underwritten by the nativist "immigration-restriction" group NumbersUSA, filed in federal court last summer by the anti-immigrant movement's attorney of choice and Arizona SB 1070 author, Kris Kobach (also an NRO contributor).
On behalf of 10 disgruntled Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the lawsuit claims that the deferred action policy implemented to formalize prosecutorial discretion for qualifying undocumented students and veterans who came to the U.S. as children - also referred to as "DREAMers" - requires them to violate immigration law. From NRO, which calls out "most Republicans [who] have expressed little interest in the ICE agents' lawsuit":
U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor has already indicated that the ICE agents "are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim." If that proves true, it would mean that the agents' request for a temporary injunction would be granted, and the policy ultimately struck down, barring a successful appeal. Judge O'Connor's ruling is likely come in the next week or two, as the Senate debates and considers amendments to the immigration-reform bill. "It could definitely affect things in Congress," says Kris Kobach, the attorney representing the ICE agents in the case (and a contributor to National Review). "If Congress doesn't take notice of what's going on in this case, and the shocking facts that have been revealed, then Congress is not looking at the full picture."
Kobach, who opposes the Gang of Eight bill, says such a ruling would significantly undermine proponents' claims with respect to border security and law enforcement. "All we really have on the law-enforcement side, with the bill in the Senate, is the Obama administration's promise to enforce the law," Kobach says. "Well, they've already shattered that promise, as demonstrated by this case. They're ordering ICE agents to break the law, which is pretty extraordinary. They're not engaging in any serious law enforcement."
[The Obama] administration has demonstrated a casual disregard for the rule of law. Even if the DREAM Act is good policy -- and even a number of Republicans think it is -- certainly the fact that the president lacks the legal authority to implement it by executive fiat is a "good reason" to stop him from doing so.
If for no other reason than the fact that the anti-immigrant activism practiced by NumbersUSA and Kobach has become toxic for a Republican Party trying to fix its overwhelming unpopularity with voters of color, the GOP's noticeable aversion to this challenge is unsurprising. However, in seeking to justify the automatic deportation of these non-criminal undocumented immigrants, NRO also fails to recognize the other reason Kobach is not getting much support.
Contrary to NRO's presentation, the lawsuit is seriously struggling.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum and guest Dr. Manny Alvarez misrepresented the science behind Plan B and ignored the legal reasons behind the pending over-the-counter availability of this emergency contraceptive.
Leading her segment by incorrectly describing the contraceptive as an abortifacient for use "after sex they think may have resulted in a pregnancy," MacCallum hosted Alvarez, Fox's senior managing editor for health news, to repeat his discredited claims about Plan B's alleged dangers. Specifically, Alvarez claims that "from a scientific point of view," Plan B is only "safe for women." Both MacCallum and Alvarez professed ignorance as to the real reasons the one-pill form will soon be available without a prescription. From the June 11 edition of America's Newsroom:
ALVAREZ: From a scientific point of view I know, yes, Plan B is safe for women. But since when is a 10-year-old a woman? All the advocates that say oh this is a great success for women's health rights and all of that, I get the whole thing if you want to say women, fine, but a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 12-year-old - those are kids. They're not even teenagers.
MACCALLUM: I sent my daughter to buy, you know, the d-level of allergy medicine the other day at CVS and they wouldn't sell it to her without an ID that showed she was 18. You can't buy cold medicine, you can't get your appendix taken out without your parents standing right by your side at the hospital. But you can do this with no problem. Explain what kind of world we live in when that is the situation.
ALVAREZ: The rationale is really something that I can't put my head around it.
National Review Online called upon Republican state officials to "create a 30-state united front with Oklahoma" and join a challenge to the legality of new insurance marketplaces set up under health care reform, without mentioning that the theory behind this lawsuit is not new and has been widely criticized.
Claiming Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma has "found an ingenious way to call a halt to the Obamacare project," NRO failed to note that the administrative law challenge is neither new nor of Pruitt's creation, but rather represents his last-ditch attempt to salvage his previous constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, rendered irrelevant by the Supreme Court's historic rejection of similar arguments in 2012.
Not credited by NRO, Pruitt's lawsuit is based on a novel theory of two libertarian conservative scholars and long-time and persistent Affordable Care Act critics, one of whom is an NRO contributing editor. Their highly contentious argument is that the new health care reform marketplaces, otherwise known as "exchanges" managed by either the federal or state governments, can only offer crucial tax credit subsidies for purchasing private insurance if the system is state-run. From NRO's description of the challenge:
Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt has found an ingenious way to call a halt to the Obamacare project: Hold the federal government to the letter of that misbegotten law. His fight is a lonely one: While a majority of states signed on to the 2010 lawsuit opposing Obamacare on constitutional grounds, Oklahoma is standing largely alone today.
The tax credits apply only to those using exchanges created by the states. The federal government can create its own exchanges within states; however, it has no authority under the law to use them to offer subsidies and inflict the accompanying taxes.
But there was an unforeseen development: Some 33 states have refused to create those exchanges, Oklahoma among them. If a state's residents are not eligible for exchange subsidies, then its employers are not subject to the associated punitive tax. Contra the administration's amen corner in the media, this was not a rookie drafting error in the legislation -- it was an intentional feature of the bill. The law is explicitly written to deny subsidies to states that refuse to create exchanges. The president and congressional Democrats simply failed to anticipate that the majority of states would refuse to create exchanges.
NRO incorrectly characterizes the widespread debunking of this argument as merely an "inventive legal theor[y]" of the Department of Justice in service of the Obama administration's "habitually cavalier disregard for the rule of law."
Right-wing media are continuing to follow GOP talking points opposing filibuster reform by pretending President Obama's attempts to fill judicial vacancies are dangerously unprincipled.
By shamelessly repeating Sen. Chuck Grassley's debunked analogy that the president's current nominations to the important U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are a "type of court-packing reminiscent of FDR's era," right-wing media appear to be running out of excuses for rampant Republican obstructionism. Consequently, this "radical and different" treatment of the president's nominees as opposed to that of past Republican presidents has led to the real possibility that Senate rules will be changed in July to require up-or-down votes for executive and judicial nominees.
GOP insistence on clinging to an ahistorical characterization of the president's moves to fill existing seats on the D.C. Circuit as tantamount to former President Franklin Roosevelt's proposal to create new seats on the Supreme Court has been dismissed as "silly on its face" and incapable of "passing the laugh test" by multiple experts.
Nevertheless, The Weekly Standard has parroted the false line, declaring that the "nominations are simply a power play" so the court will "vote in his administration's favor all the time." The Wall Street Journal similarly warned that the president wanted judges who "rubber stamp liberal laws," leading him to his "flood-the-zone strategy" for the D.C. Circuit, "a liberal power play that shows contempt for traditional political checks and balances." Breitbart.com is breathlessly proclaiming the nominations show "Obama has declared war on judicial independence" and is "trying to declare law by executive fiat."
Ironically, Grassley and now Rep. Tom Cotton have introduced bills that would block the president's nominations by eliminating the vacant seats -- literally court-packing in reverse. In a companion move to their bad sense of history, the GOP is relying on bogus numbers to claim the D.C. Circuit doesn't need the president's nominees because of its workload, an assertion refuted not only by the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States (which recommends the size remain the same), but also by the court's former Chief Judge and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Right-wing media are nonetheless repeating this discredited spin, in support of the unprecedented Republican blockade of judicial nominees.
The additional GOP threat of filibusters of the president's executive nominees to head the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to warn he will demand a simple majority vote for all of the president's nominees in July.
Right-wing media are continuing to claim Attorney General Eric Holder lied under oath because of a a search warrant request that included Fox News reporter James Rosen, a myopic smear conservative legal experts are warning is baseless.
Picking up where Fox News and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin left off, The Wall Street Journal is repeating Republican politicians' attack that either Holder perjured himself in a May 15 statement before Congress as to whether journalists were improperly surveilled or a 2010 affidavit in a search warrant request for the criminal investigation of a State Department employee's leak of classified information was "false." From a June 2 WSJ editorial:
In its 2010 affidavit seeking a warrant to search the email of Fox News reporter James Rosen, Justice said there was "probable cause" to believe Mr. Rosen "has committed or is committing a violation" of the Espionage Act "as an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator." That sounds like a serious criminal charge, and Mr. Holder personally approved the warrant request.
Yet now, amid a media uproar, Mr. Holder's spinners are saying Justice never intended to prosecute Mr. Rosen. But if that's true, then the Department's warrant affidavit contained false claims about Mr. Rosen. Prosecutorial dishonesty is more common than it should be, but Justice officials don't usually cop to it as a way of defending an Attorney General. Should judges assume that the "probable cause" and "co-conspirator" claims in Justice's next warrant request are also a ruse?
Right-wing media continue to push the incorrect and narrow claim that Holder perjured himself by testifying that "[i]n regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material -- this is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy," although Rosen had been previously named as a possible "co-conspirator" for soliciting classified information from a government official who was allegedly violating the Espionage Act.
Beyond the credibility problems of this selective outrage, conservative and libertarian legal experts are now raising another issue that this scandal-mongering is missing: right-wing media's cries of perjury are completely unsupportable.