In its continued opposition to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a proposed amendment to this historic law, The Wall Street Journal published a misleading op-ed by Hans von Spakovsky, an unreliable contributor to the National Review Online.
The op-ed of von Spakovsky, a right-wing activist who has called the "modern 'civil rights' movement" indistinguishable from "discriminators and segregationists of prior generations" and whose attempts to fearmonger about "virtually non-existent" voter fraud have been repeatedly discredited, followed a WSJ editorial that compared the bipartisan attempts of Congress to update the VRA with that of "Jim Crow era Southerners."
Although this new effort to strengthen the VRA through the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has prominent Republican support, von Spakovsky claimed "[t]his bill really isn't about the [Supreme Court's recent Shelby County v. Holder] decision. It is about having the federal government manipulate election rules to propagate racial gerrymandering and guarantee success for Democratic candidates." From the WSJ op-ed, which defended the conservative justices' gutting of the VRA in Shelby County and smeared the subsequent bipartisan efforts to repair the damage:
Before Shelby County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states to get "preclearance" from the federal government before making any voting changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old turnout data that did not reflect contemporary conditions. Census Bureau data show that black-voter turnout is on a par with or exceeds that of white voters in many of the formerly covered states and is higher than the rest of the country. We simply don't need Section 5 anymore.
In Shelby County, a radical break from precedent that has been described by experts as "on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America," the bitterly divided Supreme Court struck at the heart of the VRA's efficacy by dismantling its "preclearance" process.
Even as the conservatives did so, however, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly told Congress to fix this formula that requires covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit election changes for federal review before implementation. Contrary to von Spakovsky's strange assertion that "this bill really isn't about" Shelby County and is "an attempt to circumvent" the decision, this new bipartisan legislation is actually a direct response to Roberts' invitation to Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
Admittedly, this new formula is more complex than von Spakovsky's preferred method of determining voter suppression by "turnout data," a confusion between correlation and causation that has been described as a rudimentary failure of "Statistics 101." Rather, Section 5 of the VRA imposes the preclearance process on jurisdictions with an incorrigible track record of suppressing votes based on race, and the formula to determine this discrimination has been changed in the new legislation to incorporate a comprehensive and rolling 15-year record.
The claim of the op-ed that the old formula led to "unwarranted objections" on the part of the Department of Justice toward alleged voter suppression is also inaccurate; this preclearance mechanism has been extremely effective at stopping racially discriminatory election changes. In fact, the two cases that von Spakovsky highlights both involved Section 5 successes.
Local reporting on Texas divorce law has finally put to rest the right-wing media smear that gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis lost or gave up custody of her children, debunking this myth as the lie it always was.
Since she announced her candidacy for governor, national right-wing media figures have gone after Davis and scrutinized her parenting choices in a way no male candidate would ever have to confront. One nasty example has been Fox News contributor and RedState editor Erick Erickson, who has repeatedly referred to Davis as "Abortion Barbie," baselessly questioned her mental health on the basis of routine legal pleadings, and misrepresented the terms of her divorce settlement.
It was also the discredited Erickson who quickly jumped at the opportunity to help spread perhaps the most persistent myth about Davis -- that her ex-husband, Jeff Davis, "got custody" of her two daughters following their 2005 divorce decree. This falsehood was unfortunately started by the Dallas Morning News, whose January 18 profile of Davis was criticized for various reporting failures. Although the Dallas Morning News never corrected the language in the original piece, the reporter correctly described what actually happened in a later article, in accordance with the editor's online admission that the original version "left some readers perhaps too free to misinterpret the situation. We will print a clarification in tomorrow's newspaper."
In short, Davis never lost or gave up custody of her children; rather, she was granted what's known under Texas law as "joint managing conservatorship" of her daughters. "Custody" isn't even the relevant legal term in Texas divorce proceedings.
By the time the Dallas Morning News mentioned Davis' joint conservatorship, the smear had already gained traction. Versions of the myth eventually cropped up in the New York Post (which claimed Davis "lost custody" of her daughters), Breitbart.com (she "gave up custody"), and even Ann Coulter jumped into the fray, accusing Davis of telling "huge whoppers" and erroneously reporting that the Texas family court "awarded [Jeff Davis] full custody."
Unlike the Dallas Morning News, right-wing media have yet to issue a "clarification," let alone a much-needed correction and apology to Davis after their distortions about Davis' divorce raced from the fringes of the internet to Fox News. Davis herself expressly pointed this out in a recent speech, saying, "I never gave up custody of my children. I never lost custody of my children. And to say otherwise is an absolute lie."
The Wall Street Journal renewed its opposition to all things union in a recent editorial, complaining about a proposed rule change that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hopes will make union elections more efficient.
On February 5, the NLRB announced a series of proposed rule changes that streamlines labor organizing, including a new rule that could eliminate long delays that hinder employees' ability to vote up or down on union representation.
In a February 10 editorial, the WSJ framed the new rules as an attack on employers, arguing that a change in election timing could "unbalance" employers' First Amendment rights. This is far from the first time the WSJ has taken an unfair dig at unions and their members, but this time the editorial board's defense of an employer's right to badmouth unions during an election managed to completely ignore how unfair anti-union sentiment has flourished under the old system.
The WSJ also mischaracterized the NLRB's previous attempt to change the rules in 2011 as "failed," even though it later admits that the court that heard the case did not overturn the rule on substantive grounds, but rather because of procedural concerns. Specifically, because the Republican appointee to the NLRB in 2011 made good on his threat to "block" the rule by refusing to vote, the court ruled he had successfully denied the board of its required quorum.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker baselessly criticized President Obama for his administration's "willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country," citing right-wing legal challenges to insurance coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a lawsuit that was filed by the previous administration, not the current one.
In a recent column, Parker complained that Obama's decision to speak out against attacks on religious freedom overseas during the National Prayer Breakfast was done "without a hint of irony," because Obama failed to mention the "eroding protections of religious liberty" in the United States. Parker pointed to several high-profile cases as evidence of the Obama administration's supposed "challenge [to] religious liberty in this country." Parker overlooked the fact that the right-wing legal arguments that form the basis of these cases are a radical departure from settled corporate law precedent and the "well-established" religious accommodation practice for objectors toward neutral laws like the ACA's "contraception mandate." Parker also went on to claim that a separate Supreme Court decision in 2012 that ruled in favor of a church's discriminatory hiring practices was further evidence of the Obama administration's attack on religious liberty:
President Obama gave a lovely speech at the recent National Prayer Breakfast -- and one is reluctant to criticize.
But pry my jaw from the floorboards.
Without a hint of irony, the president lamented eroding protections of religious liberty around the world.
Just not, apparently, in America.
Nary a mention of the legal challenges to religious liberty now in play between this administration and the Catholic Church and other religious groups, as well as private businesses that contest the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.
Missing was any mention of Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor -- whose cases have recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court and that reveal the Obama administration's willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country.
The more germane question to cases such as Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters is whether the government can accomplish its goal of making free contraception available without burdening religious objectors. Can't women in Colorado get contraception without forcing the Little Sisters, a group of nuns who care for the elderly, to violate their core beliefs? Their charitable work could not long survive under penalties the government would impose on them for noncompliance.
For now, the Little Sisters have been granted a reprieve, thanks to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Arguments in the Hobby Lobby case are scheduled for March, with a decision expected in June. Meanwhile, another case settled in 2012 reveals much about this administration's willingness to challenge religious freedom. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the question boiled down to whether the government can decide whom a church hires as minister. Since when?
On February 5, President Obama announced the nomination of state judge Darrin Gayles to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The previous nominee for that slot, state judge William Thomas, was unexpectedly blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a decision right-wing media defended.
If confirmed, Gayles will be the first black, openly gay male judge on the federal bench. But Gayles is not the first black, openly gay judge to be nominated to the Florida seat -- that would have been Thomas. Despite his initial support, Republican Senator Marco Rubio ultimately refused to support Thomas' nomination, a decision that was fatal to the nomination because nominees to the federal bench need the support of both of their home-state senators to advance.
In the wake of criticism about Rubio's flip-flop, right wing media defended the Senator's decision, claiming his belated "careful review of [Thomas'] record raised red flags" and rejecting as baseless any claims that Rubio's decision may have been "because he was a black homosexual."
But the nature of Rubio's subsequent change of heart regarding Thomas' nomination was strange. Though Rubio insisted he withdrew his support due to concerns about Thomas' "fitness" to serve, members of the Florida legal community were quick to point out the judge's extensive qualifications and his fairness in the courtroom. Indeed, although the "red flags" were purportedly supposed to involve improper sentencing in two criminal cases, the actual prosecutors involved rejected those arguments. As explained by Miranda Blue of People for the American Way:
Rubio's office provided two examples of instances in which they believed that Thomas didn't impose "appropriate criminal sentences." In both cases, Thomas imposed the highest sentence sought by the prosecution; in both cases, prosecutors praised his handling of the trials. Rubio's staff also claimed that in one of those cases, a grisly murder trial, Thomas "broke down in tears" when sentencing the defendant to death; news reports make clear that the judge's tears came when he was describing the brutal crime. As [MSNBC's] Chris Hayes put it, none of these complaints "pass the smell test."
Because of this history, national news organizations are already reporting on this nomination of Gayles to the federal bench. Rubio's office has also quickly responded to media inquiries, telling NPR "I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee." Such high-profile media scrutiny is certainly welcome in the wake of the confusing and contested reasons for the failure of the last openly gay black man to be seated to this court.
National Review Online is pushing an accusation that Virginia attorney general Mark Herring is "politicizing" his office because he has refused to defend that state's same-sex marriage ban in court. In reality, Herring's decision is a common one -- state officials on both sides of the political aisle have frequently refused to defend laws they consider to be unconstitutional, and he is not alone in his legal analysis.
Abandoning any pretense at understanding civil rights precedent or the bipartisan-supported Voting Rights Act (VRA), The Wall Street Journal condemned as "racial mischief" Congress' recent attempt to update this historic law pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent and explicit instructions.
In last year's bitterly split opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted the most effective part of the Voting Rights Act - the "preclearance" formula by which jurisdictions with an incorrigible record of voter suppression must submit election changes to federal review before implementation. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
On January 16, Congress did just that and submitted bipartisan legislation to update the previous formula, which itself was an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort signed into law by former President George W. Bush. In a February 3 editorial, however, the WSJ declared this legislation comparable to the efforts of "Jim Crow era Southerners" and declared "Congress should let it die":
Never underestimate Congress's ability for racial mischief. In the Jim Crow era Southerners blocked civil-rights progress. Now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states.
Democrats and the strange bedfellow of Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner have introduced a bill to revise Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down last year. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Act's coverage formula no longer made sense in light of current racial realities, and the new proposal isn't much better.
The good news is that the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Senator Pat Leahy and endorsed in his State of the Union by President Obama, specifically exempts voter ID laws from the actions that could be counted as a demerit against the state's voting-rights record. That's a repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's politically motivated campaign against voter ID, and perhaps that's why Mr. Sensenbrenner came on board.
But that concession isn't worth the broader political intrusion that the new proposal would allow. The Voting Rights Act's current provisions still provide ample federal enforcement when local politicians limit minority rights. Federal preclearance was an extraordinary exception to the Constitution's command of equal treatment under the law, and the country's racial progress shows it is no longer needed. Congress should let it die.
The WSJ may be puzzled, but there is nothing "strange" about the fact that conservative Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is leading Republican support for the latest renewal of the VRA. Support for the VRA and its preclearance mechanism - including the formula for determining covered jurisdictions - has historically been strongly bipartisan.
Sensenbrenner was the GOP's legislative leader the last time the VRA was reauthorized in 2006, when Congress passed updates to the preclearance formula by majorities of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. As former President Ronald Reagan had done before him with the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA (another bipartisan effort, also involving Sensenbrenner), Bush publicly and proudly signed into law the 2006 preclearance mechanism that Republicans (many still in Congress) overwhelmingly supported. The current bill is specifically crafted to repeat such long-standing bipartisan support, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stated that his "experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all ... I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."
The WSJ not only botches civil rights law history, it also botches the substance of the new amendment.
A day after civil rights organizations asked right-wing media to curb their misinformation and racially charged rhetoric, Fox News rejoined other conservative outlets in the smear campaign against Debo Adegbile, senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and President Obama's highly-regarded pick to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
In a January 31 report posted to FoxNews.com, legal correspondent Shannon Bream contributed to a post that cited mysterious "critics" of Adegbile's supposed "outside the mainstream" approach to the law. The report did not mention that the criminal defense work he did to overturn an unconstitutional death sentence on appeal has been commended by the American Bar Association, members of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). From FoxNews.com:
Adegbile has been described by critics as "radical," "dangerous" and "outside the mainstream."
Obama nominated Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
However, he is now facing increased criticism for his role in getting convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned during his time as a practicing attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Maureen Faulkner says she's "outraged" by Obama's decision to nominate Adegbile to the post.
Maureen Faulkner isn't the only one casting doubt on the nomination.
The Fraternal Order of Police recently sent a letter to Obama opposing Adgebile's possible appointment.
"This nomination can be interpreted in only one way: it is a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement officers," Chuck Canterbury, president of the police group, wrote in a letter addressed to Obama.
In the wake of a smear campaign of "race-baiting and dog whistle politics" against Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has formally called on right-wing media to raise the level of discourse and abandon their efforts at "character assassination" and "racially charged rhetoric."
On January 23, conservative newspaper The Washington Times ran an extremely offensive caricature attacking Adegbile. The caricature was a reference to Adegbile's successful appellate representation of a convicted murderer whose death sentence was twice confirmed to be unconstitutional. Adegbile's work on that case as one of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's top lawyers has been called "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession" by the American Bar Association.
The Times' caricature, on the other hand, referred to his nomination as "a slap in every policeman's face," a reference to the victim of Adegbile's former client.
The Leadership Conference -- a coalition of 200 of the nation's leading civil rights organizations -- responded with a statement calling the caricature "reminiscent of the racist iconography of the late 19th century designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans," a condemnation of the right-wing media attacks against Adegbile. The January 30 statement also called on the Times and Fox News specifically to "tone down this rhetoric and have a reasoned and substantive conversation on this important nomination":
Until today, we've ignored the race-baiting and dog whistle politics that form the basis of opposition to Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. We've disregarded the distortions about Adegbile's efforts to ensure that all Americans can live and work free of discrimination.
But this buffoonish and racially tinged caricature is beyond the pale of acceptable mainstream debate. This cartoon is reminiscent of the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans who were only beginning to throw off the shackles of chattel slavery.
Debo Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation with broad and bipartisan support for his confirmation. He's the son of immigrants who worked his way through law school to defend American democracy in the U.S. Supreme Court. But to the Washington Times, Fox News, and others, he's a buffoonish caricature and a "cop killer." The American Bar Association has debunked this lie, and wrapping it in racially charged rhetoric does not make it any more true.
This type of character assassination harkens back to the baseless and unrelenting attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s McCarthy hearings, which led counsel Joseph Welch to ask Senator McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
The head of the civil rights division is a vitally important office charged with defending the rights of all under the U.S. Constitution. There is no longer room for the dog whistle politics of yesteryear in a 21st century debate about an extremely well-qualified nominee to an important position such as this. We're calling on all of Adegbile's critics to tone down this rhetoric and have a reasoned and substantive conversation on this important nomination.
Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will joined right-wing media celebrating a lawsuit he believes will "blow [the Affordable Care Act] to smithereens," even though legal and policy experts agree that the theory the lawsuit is based on is ridiculous.
In a January 29 column, Will cheered the efforts of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is challenging the legality of tax credits the IRS provides to consumers who buy health insurance on the new federal exchange. According to Pruitt's lawsuit, which is the brainchild of Michael Cannon of the conservative Cato Institute and the National Review Online's Jonathan Adler (also a blogger at the right-leaning Volokh Conspiracy, which makes him a new colleague of Will's), the IRS has no authority to offer the tax credits in the federal exchange. Instead, according to the theory, Congress somehow intended the credits only for exchanges set up by the states.
Will ignored the fact that a federal court recently ruled against this type of far-fetched challenge.
Yet the case still sounds pretty good to Will, who used his column to not only celebrate this dubious lawsuit, but to complain about the IRS' "breezy indifference to legality":
The four words that threaten disaster for the ACA say the subsidies shall be available to persons who purchase health insurance in an exchange "established by the state." But 34 states have chosen not to establish exchanges.
So the IRS, which is charged with enforcing the ACA, has ridden to the rescue of Barack Obama's pride and joy. Taking time off from writing regulations to restrict the political speech of Obama's critics, the IRS has said, with its breezy indifference to legality, that subsidies shall also be dispensed to those who purchase insurance through federal exchanges the government has established in those 34 states. Pruitt is challenging the IRS in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and there are similar challenges in Indiana, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The IRS says its "interpretation" -- it actually is a revision -- of the law is "consistent with," and justified by, the "structure of" the ACA. The IRS means that without its rule, the ACA would be unworkable and that Congress could not have meant to allow this. The ACA's legislative history, however, demonstrates that Congress clearly -- and, one might say, with malice aforethought -- wanted subsidies available only through state exchanges.
Congress made subsidies available only through state exchanges as a means of coercing states into setting up exchanges.
In Senate Finance Committee deliberations on the ACA, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), one of the bill's primary authors, suggested conditioning tax credits on state compliance because only by doing so could the federal government induce state cooperation with the ACA.
Right-wing media are misinforming about a recent Supreme Court injunction that allows the non-profit charity Little Sisters of the Poor to continue its objection to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, as they appeal a lower court opinion that rejected their legal challenge.
In its January 24 order, the Court pointed out that the ruling "should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits." In other words, the nuns haven't won their lawsuit -- the Court has not issued an opinion regarding whether or not their First Amendment rights have been violated. Interestingly, although the order stipulated that the nuns would no longer have "to use the [original] form prescribed by the Government," in order to register their objection, they still must "inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they ... have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services."
But this preservation of the status quo hasn't stopped right-wing media from framing the case as a big win for Little Sisters. In a January 27 segment on Fox's Special Report, host Bret Baier "chalk[ed] one up for David against Goliath." National Review Online at least acknowledged the meaning of the Court's order, but still crowed about the nuns' "big procedural victory." In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal went further, not only calling the case a "victory" for Little Sisters, but also a "rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty":
[T]he permanent stay pending appeal, issued late Friday by the full Supreme Court with no recorded dissent, was rarer still -- and a rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty.
The Little Sisters sued because they believe the form they must sign to supposedly exempt themselves from the mandate instructs others to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in their name, and thus violates their faith and the First Amendment. Nearly all of the lower courts that are adjudicating the 91 lawsuits challenging the rule gave religious organizations a reprieve, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals did not for the Little Sisters.
The Justice Department also argued that this order of Catholic nuns who run a Colorado nursing home and hospice should be forced to comply. You might call it a war on religiously devout women.
Right-wing media continue to attack former senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, with baseless smears and race-baiting.
Following the lead of an ongoing right-wing misinformation campaign against this former top lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Washington Times advanced the accusation that Adegbile's nomination is somehow offensive to police because he once worked on the twice-successful appellate appeal of the unconstitutional death sentence of a convicted murderer. Adegbile's former client remains imprisoned for life. Immediately reposted by right-wing blogger J. Christian Adams, who began the smears against Adegbile, the Times captioned its disturbing caricature of Adegbile with: "Obama's choice represents a slap in every policeman's face."
The caricature does not appear in the online edition of the Times.
Unlike The Washington Times, the American Bar Association has called Adegbile's representation of a criminal defendant's constitutional rights "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession." Moreover, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives has also lent its support to Adegbile's nomination, calling him "well qualified" and the smears on his character "troubling":
We believe that Mr. Adegbile's record of achievement is impressive, and he is well qualified for the position. Additionally, he has demonstrated a respect for the fundamental rights of all people under our constitution to have legal representation no matter how heinous the offense. We are confident in his ability to bring a balanced and ethical perspective into his role as head of the Civil Rights Division.
The attacks on Mr. Adegbile's character for upholding one's constitutional rights are troubling. To take away one's right to a proper defense because of the act committed, is against the constitutional oath that we as law enforcement officials have sworn to protect and defend. His distinguished record of achievement has centered on racial justice, constitutional rights and equal opportunity; and he should be judged on his entire body of work and not one chapter.
We empathize with the surviving families and those touched by the despicable crimes that were committed; and we understand how painful it is for them to see a conviction sustained at trial and a death sentence imposed only to be lost on appeal because of an error. But these are the laws that we have taken an oath to uphold both popular and unpopular. Civil Rights cases are some of the most controversial and complex cases that our courts face. They are based on interpretations of the US Constitution and affect the rights afforded to all of our citizens and some non-citizens. We expect the leadership of the Civil Rights Division to possess the courage to move forward on those cases that warrant it, and, after careful and thoughtful consideration have the ability to reject those cases that don't meet the legal threshold.
We believe that Mr. Debo Adegbile possesses the unique qualifications needed to lead the Civil Rights Division. He is balanced and ethical, and has demonstrated a duty to honor our Constitution through his bravery to ensure the proper representation of even an individual who has committed the most reprehensible of offenses. Our Constitution is what makes America great and has served as a model for other nations. Therefore, it is our recommendation that Mr. Debo Adegbile be quickly confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. [National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, 1/24/13]
Right-wing media have sunk to new lows in smears against President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) top official Debo Adegbile, a highly-qualified and widely praised civil rights litigator who has been senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Conservative Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is a legal expert who led the last reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2006 and has since called for the renewal of this crucial civil rights law after the Supreme Court struck down a key part of it -- but you won't hear about that from Sensenbrenner on Fox News.
Sensenbrenner used to be a favorite of Fox, appearing repeatedly on the network to provide expert legal analysis informed by his experience helming historic legislation, such as the Patriot Act. Fox host Sean Hannity once called Sensenbrenner "one of the guys that has always been on principle ... fighting the good fight every day." But that all changed when the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the VRA in the now infamous Shelby County v. Holder and Sensenbrenner reached across the aisle to once again draft a reauthorization.
Now, this preeminent Republican can't seem to get his voting rights expertise heard on Fox News.
In June of 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County found that Section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional in a bitterly split 5-4 decision. This section, which requires states with a documented history of racial discrimination at the polls to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice before making significant changes to voting procedures, provided much-needed protection for voters who might otherwise be disenfranchised. In fact, it worked so well that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that striking down the provision was tantamount to "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." Just days after the Court struck down Section 4, states like North Carolina immediately began to construct barriers to democratic participation.
As part of the bipartisan group trying to fix the damage that Shelby County caused, Sensenbrenner is now urging his Republican colleagues to renew the VRA and reinstate its protections, calling the VRA "one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed, and is vital to our commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in our electoral process" and adding that "[b]y striking down Section 4, the Court presented Congress with both a challenge and a historic opportunity. We are again called to restore the critical protections of the act by crafting a new formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent evidence of discrimination."
Sensenbrenner feels so strongly about the VRA that on January 16, he joined Democratic congressmen and senators to introduce "bipartisan legislation to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law."
But Fox viewers probably didn't hear about it. That's because, according to a Nexis search, Fox apparently hasn't had Sensenbrenner on to discuss this new piece of legislation, or the VRA decision in general.
Media Matters conducted a search of Nexis transcripts of Fox News and Fox Business Channel for the name "Sensenbrenner" from June 25, 2013 to January 24, 2014.
The Wall Street Journal took to its editorial pages to plead with ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to overturn decades of labor law precedent -- including his own opinion -- that would greatly hinder public-employee unions' ability to advocate for their members.
The Supreme Court has long held that employees in unionized workplaces are required to pay dues even if they're not members, as long as their dues don't go toward the political activity of the union, which would be a violation of non-members' First Amendment rights. Requiring dues payments from non-members helps prevent a "free rider" problem where non-unionized workers receive the significant benefits of unionization without having to pay for it.
On January 21, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Harris v. Quinn, a case that could allow home-care workers who voted against unionization to refuse to pay dues. These workers, whom the state of Illinois recognizes as public employees because they're paid with Medicaid funds, argue that the union's efforts to raise wages constitute political activity.
Lawyers for the union and for Illinois counter that unionization has reduced turnover for home-care workers, has nearly doubled wages for those workers, and has saved the state around $632 million. It should be noted that the plaintiffs in this case, despite opposing the union, still accepted the wage increase, all while bringing a lawsuit that has national implications for the labor movement. As NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reported, a finding for the plaintiffs "could drive a stake through the heart of public employee unions" because unions will still be required by law to represent and advocate for non-members even if they refuse to pay dues.
But the WSJ, never one to pass up an opportunity to attack unions, is predictably pro-plaintiff when it comes to Harris. The editorial board, presumably taking advantage of the fact that the WSJ is one of just two newspapers Scalia reads, pleaded with him (or his clerks) to "restore a first constitutional principle" by finding that paying union dues violates the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights -- something that Scalia has previously declined to do.