The Wall Street Journal is joining the right-wing campaign against President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, by uncritically pushing the unsubstantiated claim that Perez improperly colluded with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, to withdraw a Supreme Court civil rights case.
In reporting on President Obama's official nomination of Perez to head the Department of Labor, the WSJ repeated the claim that Perez inappropriately interfered with Magner v. Gallagher, a Supreme Court civil rights case that could have provided the conservative justices with an opportunity to strike down decades of civil rights precedent. Specifically, although the City of St. Paul has clearly stated it withdrew Magner v. Gallagher because it feared a split Court might use it to strike down the established practice of proving discrimination by showing the racial effects of challenged policies - "disparate impact" litigation - the WSJ uncritically repeated the allegation that Perez was improperly involved. From the WSJ:
The nomination of Mr. Perez as labor secretary comes as some congressional Republicans have raised questions about his alleged involvement in the Justice Department's decision to stay out of two lawsuits against St. Paul, Minn., in which private plaintiffs alleged the city defrauded the U.S. in its use of housing funds.
Republicans have questioned whether the Justice Department stayed out of those cases in exchange for St. Paul dropping an appeal pending at the Supreme Court in a case that civil-rights advocates had feared would undercut enforcement of U.S. housing-discrimination law.
Fox News is using its lack of knowledge about the Voting Rights Act and basic civil rights law to smear the nomination of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor.
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Section 5, a provision within the law that requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting practices to submit election changes for federal review, has been a source of difficulty for Fox News. On the March 14 edition of America Live, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent guest Jay Sekulow attacked Perez by incorrectly describing the role of race in race-conscious civil rights law, such as the VRA. In the lengthy segment about the Voting Section - a Department of Justice (DOJ) section under Perez's supervision - Kelly misrepresented a recent Inspector General report and allowed Sekulow to question Perez's competence even as he mangled civil rights law by insisting the Voting Rights Act is "colorblind."
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attempted to join other right-wing media in attacking a New Republic article on Republican nullification efforts, but failed to address the article's main points in her rebuttal.
Noonan skips over the substance of the article to instead misrepresent the controversy around photo voter IDs and ignores the fact that rejections of federal authority through an appeal to "states' rights" are now commonplace in the Republican Party. This increase in attempts at nullification extend from unconstitutional state laws to filibusters of President Obama's nominees.
The article Noonan criticizes, "Why The GOP Is And Will Continue To Be The Party Of White People" by Sam Tanenhaus, argues that the Republican Party has built itself on the myth that states can lawfully resist federal laws with which they disagree. Rather than engage the theory - a concept that originated with John Calhoun's resistance to anti-slavery efforts - Noonan dismisses the argument because she never hears this 19th-century originator of nullification mentioned by name in conservative circles.
Instead, Noonan completely mischaracterizes the recent Republican push for government-issued photo voter ID, which is one of Tanenhaus' examples of the GOP's embrace of nullification. Contrary to Noonan's description, which explains that "vote rigging is part of our history" and "vote fraud happens," these laws are redundant and unnecessary layers of additional identification for a problem of in-person voter impersonation that is virtually non-existent.
Rush Limbaugh recently bragged that conservative Justice Antonin Scalia should be "honored to be compared" to the radio host for disparaging the Voting Rights Act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" during the Shelby County v. Holder oral arguments. Other conservative justices also repeated right-wing media talking points as they considered the fate of this historic civil rights law.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a history of racially-based voter suppression to "pre-clear" election changes with federal officials or judges. By dismissing as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" the fact that a bipartisan majority in Congress voted to reauthorize the law in 2006 - after reviewing thousands of pages of evidence that race-based threats to voting rights still exists in the covered jurisdictions - Scalia adopts the arguments of right-wing media.
The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial praising the right-wing effort to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder and focused on the claim of Chief Justice John Roberts that Mississippi has the best African-American voter participation in the country. But the editors' claim that such turnout is evidence that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer necessary is directly refuted by Mississippi itself.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain jurisdictions with a past and present history of voter suppression on the basis of race or language to submit election changes for federal review before enactment. Although the historic law overall prohibits racial discrimination in election practices across the country, Section 5's power to stop proposed voter suppression before it goes into effect originally focused on the worst offenders, since updated to reflect recent evidence of disenfranchisement. As a member of the Old Confederacy with a sordid Jim Crow history, Mississippi is one of those bad actors.
Nevertheless, ignoring the fact that jurisdictions can choose to "bail-out" of Section 5 if they prove they no longer discriminate against voters of color, the WSJ editors held up Mississippi as a bizarre example of how the best way to "honor American racial progress" is to strike down the heart of the Voting Rights Act:
Is the American South--and for that matter the South Bronx--still so uniquely racist that it requires special supervision by the federal government over its election laws? That's the nub of the Supreme Court case that, judging by Wednesday's oral argument, could be another watershed in the American march toward racial equality.
[W]hy should Mississippi be treated differently than Massachusetts if its practices show better racial outcomes? Chief Justice John Roberts made this point forcefully Wednesday when he asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: "Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout?"
Mr. Verrilli: "I do not."
Chief Justice Roberts: "Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi."
Fox News host Megyn Kelly began the network's substantive coverage of oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the current Voting Rights Act case before the Supreme Court, by incorrectly reporting the reach of the Voting Rights Act as limited to select states, while also appearing entirely unaware that this historic law has prevented voter suppression against limited-English proficient speakers since 1975.
On the February 27 edition of America Live, Kelly hosted a segment on the constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that requires certain jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination to federally "pre-clear" election changes prior to enactment, reminding viewers it's the "biggest civil rights case in decades." However, both Kelly and Fox News reporter Shannon Bream neglected to inform viewers that the constitutional challenge is only to the "pre-clearance" provision and repeatedly reported the Voting Rights Act as limited to those Section 5-covered jurisdictions. Fox also ran a map of those states covered by Section 5 (mistakenly labeled as "Covered By Voting Act Entirely") and Kelly asked "Alaska? Is that right?"
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on the Voting Rights Act by Edward Blum, founder of the in-house legal project of the right-wing's Donors Trust, but failed to disclose his ties to the Supreme Court's VRA case, Shelby County v. Holder. The op-ed, which identifies Blum as a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and director of the Donors Trust-supported Project on Fair Representation, recycles misinformation about the challenge that has been extensively and widely debunked.
Conservative media's Charlotte Allen recently wrote an extensive cover piece for The Weekly Standard that relies on discredited right-wing activists Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams to attack the Department of Justice's renewed focus on properly enforcing the Voting Rights Act. But while conservative media typically advances these sources and their debunked myths, it is disturbing that mainstream coverage of the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder is relying on von Spakovsky and not disclosing his highly unreliable background.
Allen, responsible for a piece dubbed "The Stupidest Thing Anyone Has Written About Sandy Hook" by lamenting in National Review Online that no men or "huskier 12-year-old boys" were available to protect the "feminized" victims of the Newtown massacre, takes on the "politiciz[ed]" DOJ under President Obama in her story for the The Weekly Standard. In the article, Allen manages to repeat most of von Spakovsky's and Adams' stale misinformation of years past, ranging from the non-scandalous New Black Panther fiasco and non-existent Fast and Furious conspiracy, to DOJ's "belligerent stances" on enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Allen also successfully writes over 6,500 words on the alleged "politicizing" of DOJ without divulging von Spakovsky and Adams were poster children for such conduct when they worked for the DOJ under George W. Bush, disparages U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder because his "people" are not black enough to claim civil rights history, and finally undermines her main thesis by admitting that - under any presidency - DOJ follows the policy preferences of the White House.
Ultimately, however, that Allen uses the collected works of von Spakovsky and Adams is unsurprising. What is troublesome is that mainstream outlets are also publishing the opinions of von Spakovsky and Adams as the "conservative" perspectives on Shelby without disclosing their extremist background.
Conservative media are gearing up to target Caitlin Halligan - President Obama's nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals - in their ongoing campaign to block the administration's judicial nominees, a practice that has led Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lament "we are destroying the United States' reputation in the world as a beacon of democracy."
Right-wing media have a long history of insisting that the Republican Party filibuster and otherwise obstruct judicial nominees who are insufficiently conservative. The resulting court vacancies have led to "judicial emergencies," but right-wing media have made it clear they will not let up as the Senate considers President Obama's nominees to the crucial D.C. Circuit.
Directly after President Obama was re-elected, National Review Online's Ed Whelan urged the Republican Party to block the president's Supreme Court nominees because those without "conservative judicial principles" are "unfit for the Court." On February 14th, the Senate Judiciary Committee once again sent to the full Senate the nomination of former New York Solicitor General Halligan to the second most important court in the country, the D.C. Circuit, which is considered the last stop on the way to the Supreme Court. Whelan has consistently and prolifically joined the right-wing media opposition to Halligan's nomination, and recently made clear he will continue to extend his right-wing litmus test to the entire federal judiciary.
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:
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.
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.