Right-wing media continue their relentless campaign to undermine the Labor Secretary nomination of Thomas Perez, pushing the baseless claim that he acted unethically in his involvement with a withdrawn Supreme Court case that could have undone decades of civil rights precedent.
The Wall Street Journal and the National Review Online have been at the forefront of allegations, most recently made by the WSJ on May 6, that Perez perpetuated a "shady quid pro quo" with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, because of his involvement in deliberations that resulted in a withdrawn Supreme Court case, Magner v. Gallagher, and the decision of the Department of Justice to not intervene in an unrelated False Claims Act lawsuit.
By holding a surprise hearing for the "whistleblower" who initiated the False Claims Act case against St. Paul, Congressional Republicans have used the allegations that something "awfully suspicious" occurred to push back Senate mark-up of Perez's nomination until May 8. The "whistleblower," a small business owner named Frederick Newell, may have lost a sizeable sum of money he could have been awarded if DOJ had intervened. As explained by Mother Jones, "given all the hard work he put in, it's understandable he's ticked off at Perez. But the fact that Newell didn't get his money doesn't mean Perez did anything improper."
Indeed, it's unclear if Newell could have won even if DOJ had joined the case. DOJ's top expert on these sorts of claims, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz, determined the case was weak, reportedly deciding "this case sucks" and to not intervene. The Magner case at the other end of this "quid pro quo," however, was of far greater significance.
Because Magner had the potential to present yet another opportunity for the conservative Justices to dismantle long-standing civil rights precedent, advocates ranging from civil rights attorneys to former Vice President Walter Mondale joined the DOJ in requesting St. Paul drop its appeal that had brought the case to the Supreme Court. In a recent op-ed for Politico, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explained the stakes:
As any lawyer knows, bad facts make bad law. This adage aptly applies to a fair housing case involving the city of St. Paul, Minn., that is now being unfairly used to tarnish the integrity of Tom Perez[.]
What made [Magner] so unusual was landlords' claim that by enforcing housing codes against them the city was committing a civil rights violation under the Fair Housing Act. Their argument was that bringing their buildings up to code would cost too much money, cause them to dispose of the properties and thus, affect the access of their minority tenants to housing. The district court dismissed the landlords' claims, but they prevailed on appeal.
This case represented a real threat to established civil rights laws that have protected millions of Americans from discrimination. It would be a real threat to the integrity of the Fair Housing Act if these landlords could use it to keep tenants in squalor.
St. Paul's mayor, Chris Coleman, was working with Perez on this issue and on an unrelated False Claims Act case against the city. The false claims case was relatively weak, and the Justice Department chose to dismiss it. During this same period, I was among the civil rights advocates who initiated conversations with the mayor to ask if he would withdraw the city's Supreme Court appeal in the landlords' case. Coleman's public interest background and commitment to preserving the Fair Housing Act made him uniquely sympathetic to our concerns. After due deliberation, the city dropped its Supreme Court appeal.
A Wall Street Journal columnist cited a new Urban Institute study on the increased wealth gap between communities of color and whites to both revive the debunked accusations that fair housing policies caused the subprime mortgage bubble and falsely link Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to these claims.
Continuing the outlet's relentless attacks on current Labor Secretary nominee Perez, editorial board member Jason Riley wrote a WSJ column claiming Perez is responsible for the racial wealth gap documented by a recent Urban Institute report by purportedly "saddl[ing] a lot of minorities with foreclosed homes, huge debt burdens and bad credit scores."
The support for this backwards allegation was that as head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice under President Obama, Perez effectively pursued lawsuits against banks that impermissibly discriminated against communities of color during the administration of former President George W. Bush. From the WSJ:
Not surprisingly, neither the Urban Institute nor the New York Times have much to say about the federal policies that pushed lenders to loan money to people unlikely to be able to repay it. But the reality is that well-intentioned housing policies aimed at low-income minorities have ultimately left those folks worse off.
President Obama's nominee for labor secretary, Thomas Perez, made a name for himself in the Justice Department by shaking down some of these lenders for "racial discrimination" if blacks and Hispanic applicants weren't approved for some loans at the same rate as whites. Other lenders got the message.
Mr. Perez is getting a promotion, and the Obama administration is patting itself on the back for pursuing these so-called fair-lending cases. Of course, all they've really done is saddle a lot of minorities with foreclosed homes, huge debt burdens and bad credit scores.
Fox News contributor Judith Miller wrote a highly speculative Wall Street Journal op-ed that claimed New York City police surveillance practices "may well have... prevented" the Boston bombing, ignoring that the constitutionality of these programs is currently being challenged in court and their efficacy is questioned.
In the April 24 op-ed, Miller lauded the New York Police Department (NYPD) for its blanket surveillance of American Muslim communities, which has extended beyond the jurisdiction of New York City. According to Miller, this extensive spying program "is a model of how to identify and stop killers like the Tsarnaev brothers before they strike" and should be emulated by other cities. From the WSJ:
[T]he city has developed a counterterror program that is a model of how to identify and stop killers like the Tsarnaev brothers before they strike. The 1,000 cops and analysts who work in the NYPD's intelligence and counterterrorism divisions, for instance, would likely have flagged Tamerlan Tsarnaev for surveillance, given Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's insistence on aggressively monitoring groups and individuals suspected of radicalization.
The NYPD maintains close ties to Muslim preachers and community leaders, as well as a network of tipsters and undercover operatives.
Once the department had Tamerlan under surveillance, the NYPD's cyberunit might have detected his suspicious online viewing choices and social-media postings. Other detectives might have picked up his purchase of a weapon, gunpowder and even a pressure cooker--an item featured in an article, "How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," in the online al Qaeda magazine Inspire.
Even if the NYPD hadn't been watching Tamerlan, it might have been tipped off to such suspicious purchases thanks to its Nexus program. Since the program's launch in 2002, the department has visited more than 40,000 businesses in the metropolitan area, encouraging business owners and managers to report suspicious purchases or other activities potentially related to terrorism.
National Review Online misrepresented civil rights precedent to attack the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), continuing right-wing media's campaign against the validity of a long-standing civil rights doctrine that prohibits certain racial discrimination.
Right-wing media have repeatedly stated their intense dislike of the effective civil rights doctrine of "disparate impact" analysis, a type of anti-discrimination protection that can prohibit seemingly neutral law and policy that has a disproportionate effect on certain groups. For example, its use in the context of fair housing law on behalf of victims of color - unanimously recognized as legal by appellate courts - has been consistently attacked by both NRO and the Wall Street Journal, an attack that has shifted to the use of the doctrine by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, current Labor Secretary nominee.
In addition to fair housing, in which the doctrine has resulted in significant settlements from banks that engaged in predatory loaning and related discrimination, compliance with disparate impact law has also been identified as a way for the EPA to ameliorate environmental actions that have a disproportionate effect on communities of color. This "environmental justice" approach was recently criticized by NRO as "wacky," dubious," and "inconsistent" with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:
[T]he Obama administration has taken the already-wacky concept of "environmental justice" to even-wackier extremes. The basic idea here is that whether pollution is illegal or not can depend on whether its possible victims reflect a politically correct racial balance.
Now EPA has made it "significantly easier for environmental groups to establish" a violation under this dubious approach to the law....And, what's still more, the whole approach is inconsistent with the underlying statute involved, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Right-wing media have a long history of leveling charges of anti-white bias at President Obama's nominees and appointees of color, smears that have now formed the basis of Republican attacks on Labor Secretary nominee Thomas E. Perez.
Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley smeared "legal legend" federal Judge Thelton Henderson, the Department of Justice's first African-American civil rights attorney, and ignored Supreme Court precedent in order to attack a recent court ruling that re-affirmed California's prisons are unconstitutionally overcrowded.
On April 11, a three judge panel issued a "blistering" opinion that denied California's most recent request to be released from its court-ordered obligations to reduce unconstitutional overcrowding in its prison system, and warned the state it would be found in contempt if it continued to delay its compliance. The panel included Henderson, the judge who the state deferred to in the original class-action suit. From the WSJ, which characterized Judge Henderson as "dangerous to the constitutional system of checks and balances," Finley wrote:
Judge Henderson is perhaps best known for his infamous decision in 1996 to block California's Prop. 209, a voter approved-initiative banning affirmative action in state government and institutions, on the pretext that the ballot measure was discriminatory and likely unconstitutional.
Judge Henderson boasted to the San Jose Mercury last year that the Prop. 209 opinion was "probably as careful a decision as I've ever drawn up."
That sets a low bar for assessing a 2006 Henderson decision which held that sub-standard medical care in California prisons violated the 8th amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
When [Governor Jerry] Brown suggested he would appeal the panel's court order to the Supreme Court, Judge Henderson and his liberal peers on the panel (also appointed by Mr. [Jimmy] Carter) threatened to hold him in contempt and dun the state.
Mr. Brown has in the past favored using the courts to redress social inequities, but perhaps his judicial thinking will evolve after getting mugged by liberal judges and the plaintiffs bar.
In an effort to oppose federal drug sentencing reform, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attacked a group of Hollywood celebrities by taking them out of context and ignoring the racial realities behind federal incarceration rates.
On the April 10 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly belittled musicians and movie actors Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey and others for penning a letter to the White House suggesting President Obama take further steps to alleviate inefficiencies and inequalities in the federal criminal justice system. O'Reilly cherry picked quotes from the letter to misrepresent their message and ignored any discussion of their actual recommendations. Instead, the Fox News host transitioned into a tirade of insults and out-of-context statistics in an attempt to distort the true picture of America's prison structure.
O'Reilly devoted much of the segment to disparaging guest Bob Beckel and to the semantic task of crafting his own definition of "violent crime" - a definition federal criminal law does not recognize. He completely ignored the celebrities' substantive recommendations for prison and sentencing reform and avoided a balanced discussion of federal penal policy.
Wahlberg and company pointed to racial inequalities in drug sentencing that persist despite the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agreed in November 2012 that more had to be done, writing that despite the passage of the FSA, "selling a small quantity of crack cocaine (28 grams) carries the same mandatory minimum sentence - five years - as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine." From a racial justice standpoint, this matters because crack cocaine is disproportionately found in African-American communities, while powder cocaine turns up more frequently in white communities. O'Reilly ignored the problem altogether.
From the April 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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During a tease for Fox & Friends Saturday, Fox News hosts Alisyn Camerota and Clayton Morris perpetuated mischaracterizations of a Phoenix, AZ program designed to diversify the lifeguard ranks at city pools. Camerota falsely claimed that Phoenix would be hiring minority applicants as lifeguards, "even though they cannot swim" because the city must "meet quotas for diversity."
Camerota was echoing discredited myths about a lifeguard diversity program that right-wing websites like Fox Nation, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, and National Review Online have peddled in recent days. There is no evidence that a quota system is being used. In fact, the program she referred to is a scholarship that covers the cost of lifeguard-certification courses for minority students in order to encourage a more diverse field of applicants.
Despite Camerota's claim, all scholarship-sponsored applicants will still be required to pass a swim test before they are hired.
Will Fox News correct these mischaracterizations during their April 6 segment?
Several right-wing media sites stoked race-based fears to manufacture controversy over a Phoenix, AZ program designed to diversify the lifeguard ranks at city pools, falsely claiming the program hires minorities who can't swim and could "get someone killed."
On March 28, NPR reported that the Phoenix aquatics department was trying to attract more minority lifeguards by using a scholarship to cover the cost of training for those applicants who were not strong swimmers. Fox Nation claimed that minorities would be hired, "even if they can't swim." National Review Online echoed that headline. The Blaze alleged that such a program could "actually get someone killed."
National Review Online:
In reality, scholarship applicants will still be required to pass a swim test before they can apply to become city lifeguards. The scholarship covers the cost of lifeguard-certification courses for minority students in order to encourage a more diverse field of applicants. According to one survey, minorities report lower swimming proficiencies than whites.
While NRO and The Blaze have a questionable record on race, Fox Nation in particular has a well-documented history of race-baiting. In one infamous example, Fox Nation labeled President Obama's 50th birthday party, "Obama's Hip Hop Barbecue."
Fox News host Bill O' Reilly suggested President Obama is to blame for the decades-long high unemployment rate among African-Americans, ignoring other factors such as institutionalized racism, even while acknowledging his employers have used affirmative action programs.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed acknowledged the constitutionality of race-conscious law, breaking from the traditional narrative of right-wing media that touts a non-existent "colorblind" Constitution, but incorrectly described the issues in a new Supreme Court case that will examine state bans on affirmative action.
In the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court has decided to examine whether amendments to state constitutions that ban race-conscious equal opportunity programs violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by impermissibly rigging a state's political process. Contrary to editorial board member James Taranto's description of the case in a recent WSJ op-ed, Schuette is not properly understood as "an opportunity to revist" the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education admission policies.
Grutter v. Bollinger, which reaffirmed the permissible use of race-conscious admissions in furtherance of the educational benefits of diversity, is indeed at risk in the as-of-yet unreleased decision of Fisher v. University of Texas. Schuette, on the other hand, examines what political means of prohibiting race-conscious admissions are acceptable under the U.S. Constitution and what means unconstitutionally manipulate state political processes to the detriment of persons of color and others who support the use of race-conscious affirmative action.
National Review Online misrepresented the conclusions of a recent Department of Justice (DoJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report on current hiring practices in the department's Voting Section in order to join the right-wing assault on the Labor Secretary nomination of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez.
NRO's aversion to the effective enforcement of civil rights law is well-established and the outlet's wish that precedent in this area is overturned has been repeatedly stated. In addition to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, NRO has also expressed its dislike for the currently constitutional "disparate impact" doctrine. This doctrine proves impermissible discrimination against protected groups by demonstrating the disproportionate effects of challenged policies and laws, an evidence-based approach that has drawn the NRO's particular ire in the area of fair housing. A recent NRO post attempted to recycle these attacks as new ones on Perez by observing not many conservatives go to work for DoJ's Civil Rights Division (CRD).
The NRO accuses Perez of dismissing the fact that not enough conservatives serve in the Voting Section - a "disparate impact" - even though Perez enforces "disparate impact" law against banks that impermissibly discriminated against communities of color.
From the March 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News and Fox Business are butchering civil rights precedent and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in their continued campaign to suggest President Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, doesn't want to protect white people.
Following the pre-existing practice of smearing President Obama and his administration as hostile to whites and biased toward people of color, Fox has joined right-wing media in attacking Perez for his enforcement of long-standing civil rights law and advocacy for Hispanic immigrants. This right-wing campaign against Perez has focused on the Civil Rights Division (CRD), which under Perez's supervision has been very effective at using the VRA to protect historical victims of voter suppression.