In an attempt to smear unrelated civil rights law by linking it to the tragic Navy Yard shootings, right-wing activist Hans von Spakovsky argued that background checks for arrests without convictions could stop gun violence.
Never one to miss an opportunity to shoehorn an attack on civil rights law into a different subject, widely discredited National Review contributor von Spakovsky used the disturbing mass murder committed by a veteran of color to criticize employment law that guards against unnecessary racial discrimination in hiring practices. From his recent op-ed in The Washington Times that claimed "Obama policy would have exempted the Navy Yard shooter from scrutiny":
But what if The Experts had actually turned up these criminal arrests for gun-related violence [in a background check] and refused to hire Alexis? If the company had done so, it might have violated the hiring policy the Obama administration is trying to force on private employers. It could have been accused of discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency controlled by Obama appointees.
In April 2012, the EEOC issued enforcement guidance severely restricting the use of criminal background checks by employers when hiring new employees. The EEOC claims that because blacks and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at higher rates than whites, the use of a criminal-background check will have a "disparate impact" on minorities and, therefore, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unfortunately, the terrible tragedy in the Navy Yard graphically illustrates why the Obama administration's push to force employers to stop using criminal background checks is not only legally wrong, but dangerous.
Rather, the EEOC is utilizing long-standing anti-discrimination law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits those employment or hiring policies that have an unjustified discriminatory effect on persons of color. Therefore, criminal background checks per se are perfectly acceptable if they are pertinent to the job at hand.
Recently, however, blanket employment screening has become so commonplace that it flags offenses that are not only minor, but also unnecessary for the occupation in question. Because the databases that background checks rely on have an alarmingly high number of false positives based on "incomplete or inaccurate information," and because communities of color disproportionately suffer from encounters with the criminal justice system, multiple reports indicate that this new trend is making the unemployment rate for persons of color worse.
The National Review Online smeared class action lawsuits in its attack on a recent report on forced arbitration by Public Citizen, the prominent consumer advocacy organization.
The conservative wing of the Supreme Court has been on a tear in recent years, issuing one big-business opinion after the other that strengthens corporate immunity against civil justice. Right-wing media have cheered this trend, especially those decisions that rewrite precedent to make it harder for consumers and small businesses to vindicate their rights. From NRO, which dismissed class actions as "a cash cow for trial lawyers [that] don't usually help consumers":
Earlier this month, Public Citizen released a report that praised the work of private consumer lawsuits to make parallel state enforcement efforts possible. The report cites the tobacco litigation and various insurance abuse cases, and calls for strictly limiting arbitration by, among other things, banning forced arbitration clauses in consumer and employment cases, the subject of the Arbitration Fairness Act. Not surprisingly, this report distorts the truth, which is that trial lawyers, not consumers, would benefit from such a radical campaign against arbitration.
But Public Citizen was not objecting to arbitration in general, rather to forced arbitration and class action bans. From the report, which examined how arbitration law too often disfavors state consumer protections, a posture that has allowed businesses to begin a "widespread practice of inserting forced arbitration clauses into consumer contracts":
These clauses require that any potential disputes must be settled through private arbitration. Consumers are harmed by these clauses because they are denied the opportunity to have their case heard in a neutral court of law that is subject to public oversight. In forced arbitration, the company selects the arbitration firm that will conduct the hearing, giving the arbitration firm a financial incentive to favor the business. Moreover, arbitration proceedings are often conducted in secret, may be adjudicated in a manner that does not follow the law, and frequently limit many common legal principles, including the use of discovery. Also, there is scant opportunity to appeal an arbitrator's ruling.
The Supreme Court's 2011 ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion compounded the effects of [previous anti-consumer rulings] by permitting companies to insert language banning the use of class actions into arbitration clauses. Class action bans often have the practical effect of preventing consumers from seeking redress of any sort, whether in arbitration or in court, because the alleged harms to individual consumers often are not large enough to make it economically feasible to bring a case.
This is not a "radical" position and arbitration voluntarily entered into is not the issue. In addition to consumer advocates and the liberal Supreme Court justices who disagree with the anti-class action decisions NRO defends, even arbitrators have joined groups like Public Citizen in criticizing forced arbitration clauses combined with bans on class actions.
National Review Online is calling fears about the effects of the government shutdown "hysterical," ignoring the uncertain future for both the Department of Justice and the federal court system if House Republicans refuse to fund federal obligations.
Right-wing media have repeatedly trivialized the impact of the shutdown since Congress failed to pass a resolution to continue government funding, referring to it as a mere "slimdown" and insisting that "no one is going to starve" even without essential government nutrition programs. NRO joined this chorus, calling the reaction to the shutdown "almost comical." From a September 30 column:
The hysterical fears about the effects of a government "shutdown" being voiced by many in Washington, such as Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), who claims it is "as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War," are almost comical.
The truth from the experience of prior shutdowns, applicable federal laws, Justice Department legal opinions, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives, is that crucial government services and benefits would continue without interruption even if Congress fails to agree on a continuing resolution (CR) or President Obama vetoes it. That includes all services essential for national security and public safety -- such as the military and law enforcement -- as well as mandatory government payments such as Social Security and veterans' benefits.
In fact, as the Justice Department said in a legal opinion in 1995, "the federal government will not be truly 'shut down' ... because Congress has itself provided that some activities of Government should continue." Any claim that not passing a CR would result in a "shutting down" of the government "is an entirely inaccurate description," according to the Justice Department.
The "legal opinion" cited in the post is actually a memorandum opinion--a strictly advisory memo that was not legally binding, but offered legal guidance to the director of the Office of Management and Budget during the government shutdown in 1995. The memo provided only "advice regarding the permissible scope of government operations during a lapse in appropriations."
On October 8, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a challenge to campaign contribution limits that court-watchers call "the next Citizens United." Although opponents of campaign finance regulation characterize aggregate contribution limits as a violation of the First Amendment, media should be aware that such limits guard against institutional corruption in the democratic process, a foremost concern of the Constitution's framers.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States continues to make it increasingly difficult for victims of corporate wrongdoing to bring lawsuits, right-wing media still advance the myth that the court system is in desperate need of "tort reform."
The idea that American plaintiffs are an overly litigious bunch that take advantage of the federal courts with meritless claims that contribute to grievous economic costs is a common stereotype that is often repeated by the conservative media. It also isn't really true. But that didn't stop The American Spectator from repeating that idea in the September 2013 issue:
AMERICAN LAW, AND especially its rules of civil procedure, seem to take it for granted that one of life's chief joys is the opportunity to sue someone else. Getting to court in other first-world countries isn't easy, but broad is the way to the American courthouse.
The right to have civil cases adjudged by a jury is afforded constitutional protection in the U.S. Elsewhere, civil juries never got off the ground or were abolished as a sensible reform measure.
Class actions, where lawyers bring a claim on behalf of thousands or millions of unnamed plaintiffs (who seldom see any part of the recovery) are rare outside the U.S.
It's not surprising that litigation rates are so much higher here than elsewhere. Subsidize something and you get more of it. Differences in legal ethics matter. In America, much more than elsewhere, lawyers are encouraged to advance their client's interests without regard to the interests of justice in the particular case or broader social concerns. American lawyers' professional culture is unique in permitting and implicitly encouraging them to assert novel theories of recovery, coach witnesses, and wear down their opponents through burdensome pretrial discovery. Great stuff if you're a trial lawyer, but non-lawyers pay for this through higher consumer prices and foregone jobs.
The Spectator claims that the fear of litigation keeps international companies from investing in the American economy. However, it fails to mention that, according to the nonpartisan Center for Justice & Democracy, tort claims (personal injury claims) "represent only 5% of all incoming civil cases today." Moreover, the court system already has rules in place to block frivolous lawsuits from proceeding.
National Review Online is hyping a partisan lawsuit aimed at obstructing the ability of working Americans to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as one that Republican governors should be "especially eager" to join.
The NRO applauded the Oklahoma attorney general for filing a lawsuit challenging the federal government's authority to offer tax credits in the new health insurance Exchanges set to open on October 1, blasting the "lawless" fashion in which the Obama administration is implementing the ACA. From Ramesh Ponnuru's September 25 column:
The attorney general of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit that, if successful, would cripple Obamacare by challenging the lawless way the Obama administration is implementing it. (Implementing it lawfully, that is, would cripple it.) Most states have not created exchanges, and in those states the law as written does not authorize the administration to offer tax credits-and, because of that, limits its ability to impose its penalties on employers and individuals. As far as I can tell, there would be no downside for conservative attorneys general to launch their own lawsuits-or for Republican politicians at the state and federal level to support them, whether by filing briefs or speaking on their behalf.
I'm persuaded that the merits of the case are on the side of Oklahoma. I suspect, though, that courts will have an easier time seeing it that way if politicians help to create a sense that it is a respectable position and not something coming out of left field.
Though NRO is "persuaded" that Oklahoma has a winning case in its goal of denying affordable health insurance to low- and moderate-income people, it appears to be only one of a few. The legal argument Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is making is an extremely strained reading of what is, at worst, an unintended ambiguity in the ACA. Pruitt is essentially arguing that, if a state refuses to establish its own exchange, the federal government is not legally permitted to provide crucial tax subsidies to consumers attempting to buy insurance through the default federal exchange instead. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that this counterintuitive reading of the law is clearly incorrect -- participants must be eligible for tax credits regardless of whether they obtain insurance through a state-run or federally-run exchange. The affordable care law is designed to make the federal exchanges affordable.
In his efforts to pretend a proposed state law enforcement bill in California was "extreme" and unconstitutional, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly accidentally explained why it was legal.
California is currently contemplating the TRUST Act, a new bill that would clearly delineate the responsibility of state enforcement officials when they participate in the federal Secure Communities program, a joint effort that processes immigration status information taken at the local level through national databases.
Even though O'Reilly correctly noted Secure Communities is a cooperative program between state and federal officials, he still erroneously insisted the TRUST Act "subvert[s] federal law" in an interview with the former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From the September 25 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Here is how extreme things are. A proposed new law in California would prevent -- prevent police from even cooperating with the federal government on illegal alien criminal cases. Democratic politicians in California obviously doing this to strengthen their base among immigrants from south of the border. Joining us now from Washington: Julie Myers Wood, former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So obviously California is subverting federal law or am I wrong Ms. Wood?
O'REILLY: Shouldn't the attorney general though go in and say to California you can't do this. You can't not cooperate with federal people, ICE, when you have a criminal situation and if -- and we'll sue you if you continue this policy. Shouldn't the attorney general do that?
O'REILLY: But what are the odds of [Attorney General Eric] Holder doing that, you know the game in D.C. You know the players. What are the odds of the attorney general as you rightly pointed out did sue Arizona, same -- same issue. Your countermanding federal law, you can't do that. What are the odds of him saying the same thing to Jerry Brown and the people in California?
O'REILLY: All right. We're going to call the attorney general's office and see when the federal lawsuit will be filed against the state of California for failing to cooperate with federal officials.
But O'Reilly is flatly incorrect that the TRUST Act interacts with federal law in the same manner that the anti-immigrant Arizona law SB 1070 did.
National Review Online is attacking the Department of Justice's decision to hold the state of Louisiana accountable for apparently failing to comply with the terms of several longstanding court orders, incorrectly framing these enforcement efforts as an attempt to force minority students to attend failing schools.
This is not the first time that the NRO has advanced these outlandish claims against the DOJ and the Obama administration, but they continue to be dishonest. From a September 24 column on NRO's The Corner:
The Department of Justice's fight against school vouchers for poor children in Louisiana has not been popular, and the Obama administration knows it. So last night, in a particularly cynical move, the DOJ filed an additional motion, amending its suit in phrasing but not spirit.
This political maneuvering threatens the future of thousands of minority children who may soon be banished to failing schools.
The DOJ is making two main demands: First, it wants information about how the voucher program would affect the racial composition of public schools; and second, it wants parents to get pre-clearance from federal courts before they're allowed to transfer their own children to a school of their choice.
And if the DOJ succeeds, that would have repercussions not only within Louisiana, which has emerged as a national school-choice leader, but also across the United States; education reformers would have to assess how offering academic options to parents and their children might affect "desegregation."
The DOJ filed its suit because Louisiana is under numerous federal court orders that require the state to assess the impact of new educational policies on decades-long efforts to desegregate Louisiana public schools, not because it believes, as NRO puts it, "Minority kids mustn't leave for better schools." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ignored this legal obligation and went ahead with a voucher program before providing any information to the court regarding its effects, even after the DOJ warned the voucher program appeared to have "impeded the desegregation process."
The New York Post continued right-wing media fearmongering about the consequences of discontinuing unconstitutional policing methods and electing a Democratic mayor.
Leading up to the federal court decision that held the New York City Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally and systematically misapplied the common police tactic of stop-and-frisk, right-wing media repeatedly warned that following the law would send crime rates spiraling up.
Specifically, right-wing media argue that if the NYPD is forced to perform stop-and-frisk constitutionally like other jurisdictions, New York City will revert to its crime rates of the early 1990s, prior to the administrations of the last two Republican mayors. The editorial board of the Post continued this trend, adapting it as an argument against the election of the current Democratic candidate for mayor and prominent critic of the illegal application of stop-and-frisk, Bill De Blasio. From the editorial, which attacked The New York Times for pointing out its previous doomsaying was "nonsense":
The New York Times is doing the city a favor. An editorial Monday declared that New Yorkers need not worry about a return of the violence that ravaged Gotham in the pre-Bloomberg/Giuliani days. In so doing, the paper crystallized the competing messages of this vital election year.
On one side are those who believe there's nothing inevitable about the historically low crime levels New York enjoys today. This side believes that safe streets are the fruit of tough decisions taken by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and innovative tactics under Police Commissioners Bill Bratton and now Ray Kelly. This is the side of The Post, the police and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.
On the other side are those who pretend we've solved this problem forever and the ugliness can never return. This side includes the Times and the man it seems likely to endorse for mayor, Bill "Tale of Two Cities" de Blasio.
That's what's at stake in this election. Back in the days when more than six people a day were killed in New York, versus about one a day today, even the Times worried that New Yorkers "think twice about where they can safely walk." The city felt like "a New Beirut."
Accompanying the Post editorial was a photograph of a man in police custody, with the following bizarre caption: "Here's a scene from your two cities, Bill: In July 1985, Mark Campbell, 26, was charged with second-degree murder for delivering a fatal karate chop to his girlfriend's 17-month-old son -- because the baby's crying kept him awake."
Of course, this tragic murder as described is utterly irrelevant to a discussion of stop-and-frisk tactics, which the Post itself described as a way "to go after bad guys, especially the ones carrying guns." Indeed, a simple Google search quickly reveals that shocking child murders - with or without guns - continued during the administrations of Republican mayors.
Right-wing media have mischaracterized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that requires certain preventive health care services be included in employer-provided health insurance at no cost as a violation of the religious freedoms of corporations who object to contraception. In reality, this mandate, currently before the Supreme Court, accommodates religious employers' First Amendment rights without allowing secular, for-profit corporations to skirt federal law, and there is no legal precedent that gives corporations the right to exercise religious freedom.
Media outlets are ramping up their pushback against a highly questionable PolitiFact Virginia analysis of the proposed elimination of no-fault divorce law supported by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia and favorite of "father's rights" groups.
The Wall Street Journal pushed the false notion that unions are irrelevant and workers have no interest in joining them, all while ignoring the impact an anti-union state law has had on membership numbers.
On September 18, the WSJ editorial board continued its pretense that union membership decline is due to the unpopularity of collective bargaining, as opposed to the impact of Republican anti-labor legislation. From the September 18 editorial:
One of 2011's biggest political stories was the conflagration in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker's plans to reform the state's relationship with public employee unions. Two years later the fires have ebbed. Reason? Many union members are deciding there's little point in belonging to a union.
Witness the city of Kenosha. This month the Kenosha Education Association was decertified after it missed a deadline in the certification process, eliminating its ability to bargain for wages. That was the latest in a series of similar decisions by teachers-union members to jettison union representation. In 2011 and 2012, some 13% of 207 Wisconsin school districts and 39 municipal and state units were decertified.
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state affiliate of the NEA, said recently, "It seems like the majority of our affiliates in the state aren't seeking recertification, so I don't think the [Kenosha union] is an outlier or unique."
That's a remarkable repudiation of union representation in a state long considered a stronghold. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that since Mr. Walker's union reforms became law, state unions have lost tens of thousands of members, as workers opt to drop out of the union.
But the teachers union in Kenosha (the KEA) was not decertified because the majority of the teachers decided to "jettison" the union. In fact, the union says there was no recertification election at all and "[t]he union exists with or without a recertification vote."
Obsessed with an uncontroversial 2007 academic article she wrote on reproductive rights, National Review Online continues to smear judicial nominee Cornelia Pillard, whose approval vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee is today.
Nominated to the second-most important court in the nation, Pillard should be voted out of committee on her way to a Senate confirmation vote based on her stellar qualifications for the U.S. Court of Appeals. Because of right-wing media attacks started by National Review Online and repeated almost verbatim by GOP Senators on the committee, the vote is expected to be straight down party lines.
In anticipation of the vote, last night the editorial board of the NRO regurgitated the same smears.
Pivoting off of a sliver of her academic work while misrepresenting it, right-wing media have attacked Pillard for her mainstream support of family planning, comprehensive sex education, and overall adherence to established sex equality law.
Right-wing media have been so desperate to pretend her legal writings are "extreme" that not only have they dismissed the inconvenient fact that half of the Supreme Court agreed with her perspectives on reproductive rights and abortion, but her invocation of the relevance of "sex stereotypes" that NRO and others like Tony Perkins condemn was endorsed by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
But the attacks are not really about Pillard.
Rather, they are a reflection of how much the right-wing apparently loathes the decades-long development of sex equality under Fourteenth Amendment law. Make no mistake- most of these Pillard smears have nothing to do with fidelity to precedent. Right-wing media like NRO apparently desire nominees who don't support civil rights precedent.
Cornelia "Nina" Pillard is President Obama's pick for one of three vacant seats on the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit. She is a well-respected professor at Georgetown Law School; co-director of its Supreme Court Institute; a former lawyer at the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Justice Department; and a successful Supreme Court litigator.
She is also a "feminist."
A "feminist" insofar as she has spent part of her career advocating for women's equality (including a successful brief challenging the men-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute, and a successful challenge to gender-biased family leave policies). Pillard's "radical feminism" appears largely to take the form of seeking equality for women, which would certainly be a disqualifying feature of her advocacy work. If it were 1854.
Despite increasing evidence of a pro-corporate slant in recent Supreme Court decisions, right-wing media continue to insist that there is no such bias.
In a Bloomberg View editorial, National Review Online senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of "hyperbolic" grandstanding because she accurately cited a comprehensive study that showed that the current Supreme Court of the United States is one of the most pro-business in history. Ponnuru's September 16 editorial called Warren's statements the result of "flawed thinking":
Citing "a recent study"... she said: "The five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top 10 most pro-corporate justices in a half-century -- and Justices Alito and Roberts are numbers one and two -- the most anti-consumer in this entire time."
The study doesn't tell us what Warren thinks it does, or anything we should care about. It gives equal weight to every vote by a justice, even though decisions plainly vary in importance for businesses, and for everyone else. It ignores decisions that matter a great deal for businesses but don't have business litigants.
Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, notes that the study excludes Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, one of the two or three most important Supreme Court cases for business of the past decade. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to fight global warming. Because neither named party in the case was a business, the study excludes it.
The study that Ponnuru dismisses, "How Business Fares in the Supreme Court," analyzed nearly 2,000 Supreme Court decisions over the last 65 years. Although Ponnuru doesn't say so, the study was co-written by esteemed--and conservative--federal judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. It has been described, even by its detractors, as "the most comprehensive examination of the Supreme Court's handling of business-related cases in the post-New Deal era."
In an interview with libertarian media outlet Reason.com, columnist George Will spoke out in defense of right-wing "judicial activism," highlighting civil rights precedent as particularly problematic.
While other right-wing media outlets - most notably National Review Online - twist themselves into knots pretending efforts to roll back decades of progressive law that emanated from the New Deal, civil rights era, and Great Society are paradoxically a form of restraint, Will has taken the opposite approach. As noted in a recent interview with Reason.com, Will has "increasingly kind words for what used to be derided by conservatives as 'judicial activism.'"
Will's admission as to what the current right-wing legal movement is supporting in its quest to overturn critical progressive precedent has been criticized as hypocritical from both the right and the left.
In the Reason.com interview, Will continued his unapologetic defense of judicial activism on behalf of right-wing goals, by arguing "someone has to say what the Constitution means." Will subsequently listed federal programs that he thought were suspect, including the interstate highway program, federal funding for state education, and affirmative action. Linking all three programs as unnecessary examples of government overreach, Will also explained that the time for state action against systematic racism was over because "routine daily insulting of African-Americans by white Americans is now completely unacceptable. That's an astonishing improvement."
In addition to repeating this right-wing media claim that the problems of structural racism are a thing of the past and the fight for civil rights is over and "won," Will recycled debunked right-wing media claims that affirmative action "is really not helping people, it's really hurting a lot of people," dismissing it as only a way to "make elite universities feel virtuous." In fact, this was not one of the many "substantial" benefits that conservative former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor relied on to uphold the continued constitutionality of affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger.
Will's refusal to honestly describe this race-conscious program to ensure equal opportunity in education, however, illustrates that whatever term right-wing media use to describe the current conservative legal assault on half a century of civil rights precedent, the end goal is the same.