Although all of President Obama's qualified nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are currently at risk of being refused an up-or-down vote by unprecedented Republican obstructionism, right-wing media have targeted Georgetown law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard in particular with misguided smears.
Conservative Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will cherry-picked outlier examples of campaign finance violations while ignoring legitimate concerns about the potential for big-money donors to corrupt elections and balloted measures .
In his October 30 column, Will attacks campaign finance reform and celebrates the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for large donors to corrupt elections with outsized contributions. Will highlights a pair of lower-court cases where judges struck down regulations on political speech that affected seemingly small-time civic participation to downplay the danger of political corruption, conveniently overlooking how these decisions might make it easier for large corporations to obfuscate their own political participation:
Brick by brick, judges are dismantling the wall of separation that legislators have built between political activity and the First Amendment's protections of free speech and association. The latest examples, from Mississippi and Arizona, reflect the judiciary's proper engagement in defending citizens from the regulation of political speech, a.k.a. "campaign finance reform."
In 2011, a few like-minded friends and neighbors in Oxford, Miss., who had been meeting for a few years to discuss politics, decided to work together to support passage of an initiative amending Mississippi's Constitution. The amendment, restricting the power of the state and local governments to take private property by eminent domain, was provoked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo ruling that governments could, without violating the Fifth Amendment ("nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), take property for the "public use" of transferring it to persons who would pay more taxes to the government.
The Mississippi friends and neighbors wanted to pool their funds to purchase posters, fliers and local newspaper advertising. They discovered that if, as a group, they spent more than $200 to do these simple things, they would be required by the state's campaign finance law to register as a "political committee." And if, as individuals, any of them spent more than $200 supporting the initiative, they must report this political activity to the state.
Mississippi defines a political committee as any group of persons spending more than $200 to influence voters for or against candidates "or balloted measures." Supposedly, regulation of political activity is to prevent corruption of a candidate or the appearance thereof. How does one corrupt a "balloted measure"?
The answer to this question should be obvious, and even Will begrudgingly admits "there is some slight informational value in knowing where money supporting a voter initiative comes from." Although Will doesn't mention it, the judge in the Mississippi case clearly left the door open for future regulations of political speech, giving a nod to the possibility of improper influence with respect to ballot initiatives:
Significantly, the Court does not hold that Mississippi may not regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures. Instead, the Court holds only that under the current regulatory scheme, which is convoluted and exacting, the requirements are too burdensome for the State's $200 threshold.
Nevertheless, Will goes on to call the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- one that allowed a tsunami of corporate money to enter the election process -- an "excellent" one. But even Citizens United noted the corrupting danger of unchecked money in the political system, and transparency was explicitly recognized as the critical protection against such a problem.
In a report on the renewed judicial nominations struggle over three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fox News' Shannon Bream incorrectly reported that the court was balanced evenly and that past Democratic opposition to highly controversial Republican judicial nominees is equivalent to the blanket obstructionism President Obama's nominees are currently facing.
Appearing on Special Report with Bret Baier, Bream advanced the right-wing myth that filling the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit would "tip the balance" ideologically and is unnecessary, given its "lighter" caseload. From the October 29 edition of Special Report:
BREAM: The problem is this is the D.C. Circuit Court. And what's important about it is it is the key appeals court for looking at federal regulations and federal agencies, things like the EPA, the IRS. So it's something that looks at administrative action that goes around Congress. So it is a real check on administrative power. Now, this is the court that looked at the NLRB recess appointments, those appointments that the president made to the National Labor Relations Board, and found them unconstitutional. So it's very important. It's balanced right now evenly between judges who were appointed by Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, so adding even one new nominee of the president to this court is going to tip the balance. By the way, four of the current Supreme Court justices served on this court. It's very important.
BRET BAIER: But Democrats rightly point out there are a lot of empty seats so why shouldn't they be filled?
BREAM: Yeah, there are three vacancies. The President has tapped three different lawyers to fill those seats, including one who is currently a judge in a lower court. And basically, there were vacancies back when President George W. Bush was fighting to fill these seats as well. Back then Democrats said the court doesn't have enough of a workload to justify filling all of these seats. It's what Republicans are saying now and they add the workload has gotten even lighter in the last eight years. One of the judges currently sitting on the bench said this, quote, "if any more judges are added now, there won't be enough work to go around." That's from one of the current folks who's on this court.
Bream's report on Republican obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees parrots repeatedly debunked right-wing talking points. Bream is correct that the D.C. Circuit Court is a significant part of the federal court system -- it is considered second only to the Supreme Court in terms of its impact on federal law. It is strange, then, that she would uncritically report on Republican efforts to prevent the court from operating at full capacity. Moreover, her characterization of Democratic opposition to George W. Bush's D.C. Circuit nominees is demonstrably false -- that opposition did not result in the elimination of any seats, and ultimately four of Bush's nominees were confirmed. And unlike Bush's judicial picks, President Obama's nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.
Washington Post columnist Charles Lane recycled erroneous Fox News claims about California's new TRUST Act, which details how state officials can constitutionally participate in federal immigration policy.
On October 21, Lane provided misleading talking points to right-wing media on the topic of an appellate judge's recent admission that strict voter ID has proven to be voter suppression. A week later, the exchange was reversed, with Lane repeating debunked misinformation on the TRUST Act previously broadcast by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
In his most recent column, Lane falsely claimed that the TRUST Act was "in tension" with the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States, which reaffirmed long-standing Supremacy Clause precedent that forbids state law from conflicting with federal immigration law. Like O'Reilly's confused analysis before him, this is a conflation of the unconstitutional attempts of Arizona to usurp federal immigration powers with the separate - and unchallenged - constitutional justification behind the TRUST Act. From the October 29 edition of the Post:
California's new law limits cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program, under which the fingerprints of arrestees that local police routinely send to the FBI also get routed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When ICE registers a "hit" against its database, it tells the state or local jail to hold the individual for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can pursue deportation if appropriate. Between March 2008 and September 2011, Secure Communities led to more than 142,000 deportations.
California's new law forbids police to detain anyone under Secure Communities unless the individual has been convicted of or formally charged with certain serious crimes such as murder or bribery -- but not, say, misdemeanor drunk driving.
It's the mirror image of a provision of Arizona's immigration law that essentially required Arizona police officers to check with ICE about everyone they arrested. The Obama administration opposed that as unwanted and unnecessary meddling in federal decision making -- but it was the only aspect of Arizona's crackdown that the Supreme Court upheld.
So: If the Supreme Court says that one state (Arizona) may pester federal immigration authorities with more information about detainees than they asked for, can another state (California) deny the feds information they might seek?
But the surviving provision in Arizona's troubled immigration law (SB 1070) mentioned by Lane involved communication between state and federal officials, whereas the TRUST Act delineates immigration detention powers. These are two entirely separate areas of enforcement underpinned by separate legal justifications.
Contrary to Lane's argument, that is not a "mirror image."
The Wall Street Journal criticized a recent class-action opinion but completely misrepresented its holding, all while falsely accusing a group of federal appellate judges of "ignoring Supreme Court precedents" in a series of decisions that would allow consumers to hold huge corporations liable for selling defective products.
The WSJ, hardly the first right-wing media outlet to support pro-business legal reforms that would make it nearly impossible for consumers to sue large corporations, painted the appellate courts' decision to allow the class actions to proceed as inappropriately partisan, despite the fact that a diverse group of judges agreed that the suits were appropriate. It also rather egregiously misunderstood the ruling in the Scott v. Family Dollar case, which did not, as the WSJ asserts, "grant class certification" to the plaintiffs.
From the October 24 editorial:
Elections have judicial consequences, and nowhere is that more evident than on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week brushed off a Supreme Court class-action ruling like a lapful of cracker crumbs. The case has damaging consequences for business and highlights a growing trend of lower-court rejection of High Court precedents.
In Scott v. Family Dollar Stores, 51 current or former managers allege that the low-cost retail chain uses "subjectivity and gender stereotyping that causes disparate impact to compensation paid to female store managers." A Fourth Circuit panel by 2 to 1 overturned a lower court ruling and granted class certification despite clear rules set down in 2011 by the Supreme Court in Wal-Mart. v. Dukes.
This latest ruling continues a troubling trend of lower appellate courts ignoring Supreme Court precedents, perhaps on the assumption that the Justices can't take every case. Think of it as a war of attrition against lover-not-a-fighter Chief Justice John Roberts.
Similar behavior was in evidence recently in the Sixth Circuit's Whirlpool v. Glazer and the Seventh Circuit's Sears v. Butler over whether to certify class actions among consumers with allegedly moldy washing machines. In Sears, Judge Richard Posner clearly disregarded the Supreme Court's certification guidelines. The High Court vacated those judgments and remanded them in light of their ruling in 2013's Comcast v. Behrend, but the lower courts simply reinstated their prior decisions. Both cases are now bidding for another High Court hearing.
The Family Dollar majority was made up of Obama appointee Barbara Keenan and Clinton recess-appointee Roger Gregory, who was later renominated by George W. Bush as an olive branch to Senate Democrats. Democratic Presidents have appointed 10 of the 15 active Fourth Circuit judges, including six by President Obama.
Consider this disdain for precedent a preview if Mr. Obama gets a new majority on the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues need to deliver some remedial instruction in class-action law and legal hierarchy.
As an initial matter, the October 16 decision in the Family Dollar case explicitly states (in the first paragraph of the opinion) that the court had issued its ruling "[w]ithout resolving the class certification issue," and remanded it "for the district court to consider whether, based on our interpretation of Wal-Mart, the proposed amended complaint satisfies the class certification requirements of [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure]."
Even if the WSJ had analyzed the Family Dollar case correctly, its characterization of the recent class-action cases as a "troubling trend" indicative of "disdain" for the law is odd -- especially given the fact that the judges who wrote these decisions were appointed or nominated by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.
On October 23, I attended the Institute for Legal Reform's (ILR) 14th Annual Legal Reform Summit to listen to right-wing columnist Peggy Noonan and a gang of corporate lawyers frighten each other into believing that there's an approaching tsunami of frivolous lawsuits.
The theme of this year's summit was "Healing the U.S. Lawsuit System," with panels ranging on topics from class action litigation to the spread of "U.S. style litigation" abroad, and speakers representing multinational corporations and some of the biggest law firms in the country. The keynote speaker for this event was conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. It was not entirely clear why Noonan was selected for this task -- though she is a reliable conservative ally, she hasn't written extensively on tort reform. In fact, she didn't make much of an attempt to tie her remarks into the theme of the event at all. Instead, she spent most of her speech complaining about Obamacare (problems with the healthcare website are "deeply IT-related. Deeply, federally, IT-ly related"), and making suggestions on how the Obama administration might "enhance its mystique" (don't go on TV so much). The closest she came to talking about tort reform was when she told a joke about a lawyer whose arm fell off after getting hit by a truck (the lawyer, naturally, was more concerned with losing his Rolex than his arm).
The ILR, an off-shoot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is deeply troubled by the apparent onslaught of "frivolous lawsuits," and its stated goal is to "restore balance, ensure justice, and maintain integrity within the civil legal system." For ILR, this means advocating for federal and state-level "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to access civil justice and make it easier for corporations to avoid liability. The Chamber seems particularly disturbed by lawsuits, which is why, 15 years ago, it founded ILR. According to ILR President Lisa Rickard, back then "jackpot jurisdictions dominated the landscape," but thanks to reforms proposed by ILR, there have been positive changes in some of the nation's "worst jurisdictions."
For a group so concerned with lawsuit abuse, none of the attendees seemed disturbed by the fact that the Chamber itself brings a significant amount of lawsuits every year -- not just against the federal government, but regular people who just happened to piss them off. During Chamber President Tom Donohue's speech, he admitted that the Chamber has sued the federal government 170 times this year alone -- that works out to about three lawsuits a week. Despite all those (completely non-frivolous, I'm sure) lawsuits, Donohue insisted, "what we're doing is right. What they're [plaintiffs' lawyers] doing is wrong." Donohue continued, "What we do protects corporations from advancing their interest without being sued for trying to do their best" but still insisted that the Chamber "support[s] the truly wronged from being compensated." Donohue didn't stop there. "This is a war of attrition," he said. "The group with the most money will come out on top, and it better be us."
The National Review Online is trying to push back on the mea culpa of a judge who now thinks strict voter ID does in fact impermissibly discriminate, maintaining its long-standing position as a supporter of election changes that have been widely denounced as blatant forms of voter suppression.
In 2007, well-known and respected conservative Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a voter ID law in Indiana that was the first in a wave of increasingly stricter restrictions on the right to vote passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. Affirmed by a splintered Supreme Court, as the sole high-profile legal decision on the sort of unnecessary and redundant voter ID laws that are now widely promoted by the GOP, Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board has been incessantly trumpeted by right-wing media as the legal underpinning for their obsession with election changes that are documented to suppress the vote.
Now that Posner has bluntly admitted he was wrong and the evidence shows that strict voter ID is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," NRO is resorting to smearing the judge's integrity and intelligence.
Legal contributor Hans von Spakovsky, the repeatedly discredited champion of photo voter ID laws as the alleged "solution" to the virtually non-existent "problem" of in-person voter fraud, responded to the news of Posner's recent admission by claiming the judge had "been taken in" by the "Left's well-oiled propaganda machine." NRO's in-house legal expert, Ed Whelan, asserted that a switch in judgment by the judge was "weak" and praised a Washington Post columnist who attacked the judge as unethical for speaking publicly.
Von Spakovsky's attempt to rebut Posner's revelation by pointing to increased turnout in communities of color was a rehash of his continued failing of Statistics 101. As has been explained to von Spakovsky and others by statisticians, academics, and congressmen, just because more persons of color are voting now as the country grows more diverse doesn't mean that overly restrictive voting changes aren't suppressing the vote.
Not only is this confusing causation with correlation, but suppressing the vote also occurs when it becomes harder to do, not just when it is blocked entirely. The federal judge who blocked Texas' strict voter ID law because 600,000 to 800,000 citizens do not have easy access to the supporting documentation needed for the new identification requirements held that "a law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote."
Right-wing media are championing an appellate decision currently before the Supreme Court that upended the ability of presidents to appoint nominees during Senate recesses as a repudiation of President Barack Obama. But National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning was a radical decision that ignored long-standing precedent, and if the Supreme Court finds such appointments unconstitutional, governmental operations could be hindered to a historic degree.
Right-wing media continue to deny that President Obama's judicial nominees have faced unparalleled obstruction from congressional Republicans, and is mischaracterizing the legal philosophies of those nominees.
FoxNews.com contributor John Lott not only misled on the overwhelming hurdles President Obama's nominees have faced, he also rather bizarrely branded one nominee as "controversial," even though his legal opinions are based on well-established Supreme Court precedent.
From Lott's October 16 column:
The Senate Judiciary committee will vote on either Wednesday or Thursday whether to confirm Robert Wilkins, President Obama's nominee to the prestigious D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- the court often referred to after the Supreme Court as the "second highest court" in the country.
President Obama has spared little rhetoric in threatening Republicans should they dare defeat or delay Wilkins' nomination. When Wilkins was nominated in June, Obama accused Republicans of being "cynically" engaging in "unprecedented" obstruction of judicial nominations.
Democrats claim that any fair consideration would guarantee Wilkins' quick confirmation. After all, as they point out, Wilkins was quickly confirmed as a District Court judge in 2010 "without opposition."
But it might not be such smooth sailing, for after getting on the bench, Wilkins has made a number of controversial rulings -- recently striking down Texas' voter photo ID law and upholding aggregate campaign finance donation limits.
The president and other Democrats complain that Obama's nominees are suffering the most difficult confirmations ever. Many newspaper articles agree, such as in the New York Times, USA Today, and the Congressional Research Service.
But, these numbers are fundamentally flawed.
These studies don't look at what finally happens to nominees, only what happens at some arbitrary cut-off date, such as last fall or at the end of a president's first term.
In reality, many of the longest confirmation battles involve nominations made during a president's first term and not finished until some time during his second term.
A president's decision to make nominations late in a congressional cycle can also strongly influence the results.
Actually, President Obama has little to complain about.
But As Lott himself acknowledges, numerous analyses (including one by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service) have shown that President Obama's "rhetoric" is true -- his nominees have been blocked at unprecedented levels. Lott dismisses these studies by highly reputable sources because supposedly their "numbers are fundamentally flawed," a bold claim from a source whose research on gun violence has been repeatedly and seriously discredited.
The National Review Online continues to misinform on a civil rights case in front of the Supreme Court, and its right-wing talking points on the supposed harm of affirmative action to students of color have now found their way into oral arguments by the conservative justices.
In an October 15 blog post discussing Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, frequent NRO contributor Roger Clegg and attorney Joshua P. Thompson mischaracterized race-conscious admissions policies as a "racial preference" program for the unqualified. NRO has a long record of misinforming on affirmative action in general and Schuette in particular. Clegg and Thompson continued that trend in their piece, which recommended that the Court uphold a Michigan state constitutional amendment that effectively banned affirmative action by selectively making it more difficult for minorities to participate in the political process, a clear violation of decades-old precedent that prohibits this type of political restructuring. The NRO not only advocated for the conservatives on the Court to strike down these civil rights precedents, but to also reach beyond the four corners of the case and decide legal questions that aren't even at issue:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Schuette v. BAMN, a case in which a federal appellate court held -- astonishingly -- that Michigan voters somehow violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause by endorsing equal treatment for everyone regardless of race or sex.
At issue is Proposal 2 (the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), a 2006 ballot measure that amended the state constitution to provide that state and local government agencies (including public universities) "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."
[T]he Court should take this opportunity to make some amends to those who have been fighting for the principle of colorblind law but have been thwarted by bad judicial decisions. It can do so by reaffirming the strong presumption against any government use of racial and ethnic preferences -- not only in education, but also in contracting and employment, the two other arenas in which they are commonly found, and which are also addressed by Proposal 2.
The lower-court decision here complained that Proposal 2 makes it harder for some groups to lobby for preferential treatment. But the Equal Protection Clause is in the Constitution precisely because racial preference is not to be left to everyday politics, academic or otherwise. The United States has seen institutionalized discrimination in favor of whites be replaced with institutionalized discrimination against whites (and Asians) in less than a generation, and racial spoils will always be attractive to many politicians and other state and local actors.
It is not at all clear that Proposal 2 hurts African Americans (especially in light of the mismatch problem it removes -- that is, the fact that admitting students with significantly lower qualifications simply sets them up for failure since they are more likely to flunk out, drop out, get poor grades, and switch majors); and it clearly helps other minorities, like Asians, who typically are at the short end of preferences. And the logic of the Sixth Circuit's decision would also make it illegal to ban discrimination and preferential treatment through simple legislation, which would call into question a colorblind law like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as state-constitutional civil-service rules.
Of concern is how the conservative misinformation advanced by NRO (and elsewhere by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto) cropped up in the Schuette oral arguments. For example, in addition to the mistaken insistence that the U.S. Constituton is colorblind, the NRO also repeated the theory that those who get into elite positions through affirmative action, such as Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor, are possibly doomed to failure. This "mismatch" argument as applied to higher education admissions, a favorite of right-wing media, has been widely debunked, but was still advanced at oral arguments by Michigan solicitor general John Bursch - and echoed favorably by both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Scalia.
In a misleading editorial about the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, The Wall Street Journal accused the agency of "regulatory overreach," despite decades of legal precedent that permits such discretion.
On October 15, the justices accepted for review a narrow legal question from a broad industry-led attack on the authority of the EPA to fight climate change under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The WSJ celebrated this limited decision despite it being yet another in a long line of obstructionist lawsuits filed against the federal government by Republican-led states.
From the October 15 editorial, which applauded "[s]tate attorneys general [who] have challenged the Administration's agenda on everything from ObamaCare to the plan to get rid of the Yucca Mountain waste depository":
The Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency has spent the last few years stretching its legal authority, and now it will have to defend its actions before the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Justices agreed to review how far the agency can go in regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Court consolidated six cert petitions and will consider a single legal question: Does the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from "mobile sources" like cars also apply to emissions from "stationary sources" like power plants? To put it another way: Can the EPA make up the rules as it goes along?
This story started in 2004, when environmentalists sued to force the EPA to regulate CO2, even though the Clean Air Act never defined it as a pollutant. The Justices nonetheless ruled 5-4 (Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007) that the agency could do so for mobile sources such as cars under Title II of the Act. Gentleman, start your regulatory engines.
When Congress wrote the Clean Air Act, it created numerical thresholds specifying that the government could only start regulating after a plant was shown to be putting out more than 100 tons a year of a pollutant.
By the EPA's own estimates, applying that 100-ton threshold to greenhouse gases would require some six million buildings to get environmental permits, including such grand polluters as churches and farms. Recognizing that such a rule would create "absurd results" like shuttering the entire economy, the EPA rewrote Congress's numbers and adjusted the threshold to 75,000 tons from 100 tons. EPA's clear political purpose was to escape a large political backlash to its new rules by unilaterally limiting their reach.
The EPA says that its rewrite is no big deal, and that plaintiffs should have no standing to sue since the agency was doing everyone a favor by lifting the thresholds. But regulatory agencies don't have the power to rewrite laws on their own without the authority granted by Congress.
However, the WSJ editorial fails to mention that Congress has granted the EPA authority to enforce the Clean Air Act (CAA) - including the power to promulgate rules to implement it.
Before the Supreme Court even heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, potentially the nation's next major civil rights decision, The Wall Street Journal was already spreading misinformation about the case and the issues at stake.
In an October 14 editorial, The Wall Street Journal mislabeled the affirmative action ban challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, miscounted the number of justices that will decide Schuette (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, having previously worked on the case), and mistakenly conflated a political restructuring case with a different strand of affirmative action cases:
Does it violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on racial discrimination for a state to ban racial discrimination? Most Americans would think not, but that's essentially the bizarre question before the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it considers a legal challenge to a 2006 Michigan referendum.
In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the plaintiffs claim that Michigan violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause when 58% of Michigan voters supported Proposition 2 [sic], which amended the state constitution to prohibit discriminating by race in education, government contracts or hiring.
The Coalition for Affirmative Action argued that Prop 2 disproportionately burdened minorities in education. Their odd logic is that while advocates of, say, alumni legacy preferences would only need to lobby a school's admissions officials, advocates of race preferences under Prop 2 would have to amend the state constitution. So not discriminating by race discriminates by race -- got it?
It's only fair that the Supreme Court fix this legal mess that it did so much to create. Michigan's 2006 referendum was a response to the High Court's misguided 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that allowed schools to consider race as a factor in admissions for the purpose of diversity. Proposition 2 [sic] was the political response from a citizenry that still reveres the principle of color-blind opportunity.
The Schuette case ought to be an easy call for the Justices, and the ruling should be 9-0. Given the fraught politics of race, even on the High Court, it may end up being 5-4. But the failure to overturn the Sixth Circuit would enshrine in the law the concept that American voters can't choose to outlaw discrimination on the basis of race. Lincoln and Frederick Douglass would turn in their graves, if they didn't leap right out of them.
What the WSJ calls the "odd logic" of the plaintiffs isn't odd at all. The legal argument of the ACLU/NAACP (joined by multiple legal scholars, including Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe and University of California Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky) is, in fact, solidly in line with Supreme Court precedent. The WSJ has assumed that, because Schuette is tangentially related to affirmative action, it must be an opportunity for the justices to revisit the holding in Grutter -- but the cases just aren't the same.
On October 15, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a case that challenges a 2006 ballot initiative in Michigan that amended the state's constitution to prevent state universities from using race or sex as one of many equal factors in admissions. Although proponents of what was formerly known as Proposal 2 say this resulting affirmative action ban is consistent with the law, it appears to be specifically prohibited by the "political restructuring" doctrine of the Supreme Court.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board falsely claimed that the Department of Justice is relying on outdated civil rights law in its current lawsuits against the voter suppression of Texas and North Carolina.
Baselessly claiming DOJ's efforts to block redundant and unnecessarily restrictive voter identification laws that discriminate on the basis of race are motivated by politics, the WSJ incorrectly claimed that DOJ was trying to "reverse" the Supreme Court's infamous Shelby County v. Holder decision. From the editorial:
For Eric Holder, American racial history is frozen in the 1960s. The Supreme Court ruled in June that a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is no longer justified due to racial progress, but the U.S. Attorney General has launched a campaign to undo the decision state-by-state. His latest target is North Carolina, which he seems to think is run from the grave by the early version of George Wallace.
The worst argument against such laws is that they must be racially motivated because there is so little evidence of voter fraud. Yet no less that former Justice Stevens said in his opinion in the Indiana case that "flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this nation's history by respected historians and journalists, [and] that occasional examples have surfaced in recent years." Anyone who thinks voter fraud doesn't exist hasn't lived in Chicago or Texas, among other places.
It's telling that Mr. Holder prefers to file lawsuits rather than take up the Supreme Court's invitation to modernize the Voting Rights Act for current racial conditions. The Congressional Black Caucus has said it is working on a new formula for preclearance, but such legislative labor doesn't get the headlines that lawsuits against GOP-run states do.
The conservative wing of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County when it overturned decades of precedent, ignored bipartisan congressional intent, and disregarded the text of the Fifteenth Amendment in order to dismantle the "preclearance" provisions of the VRA. These neutralized provisions - Sections 4 and 5 - required states with an engrained history of racially discriminatory voter suppression to "preclear" any subsequent election changes with DOJ or the courts before implementation.
Shelby County did not directly touch any other component of the VRA.
For example, despite the right-wing's obvious plan to drag this crown jewel of civil rights law back before the Supreme Court in the future, DOJ still has authority under the VRA to attempt to block voter suppression after legislative enactment, if no longer before. In addition to this after-the-fact enforcement powers under Section 2, DOJ also retains the ability to ask a court to once more place a jurisdiction shown to intentionally suppress the vote on the basis of race under the "preclearance" supervision of Section 3, similar but different to the process under Sections 4 and 5.
DOJ is seeking to block voter suppression in Texas and North Carolina using only those sections still intact after Shelby County. Contrary to the WSJ's claims, by litigating under Sections 2 and 3, DOJ is expressly not trying to "reverse" a decision that only affected Sections 4 and 5. It is, rather, making do with what is left of perhaps the nation's greatest civil rights achievement.
The Washington Post blithely suggested that Congress should "rewrite" the Voting Rights Act (VRA) rather than allow the Department of Justice to hold states accountable for voter suppression in federal court, seemingly oblivious to the government shutdown caused by the historic obstructionism of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
Although the conservative wing of the Supreme Court recently gutted significant protections for the right to vote in last summer's infamous Shelby County v. Holder, judges still have authority under the VRA to enjoin voter suppression after a discriminatory law is enacted. The Department of Justice is suing the states of Texas and North Carolina under these Section 2 powers, and if a court finds that the voter suppression attempted in either of these states was done with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race, Section 3 of the VRA could require these states to once again "pre-clear" their election changes.
In the middle of a Republican-caused government shutdown due to opposition to the Affordable Care Act, however, the Post opined that rather than sue states in court for clear violations of the VRA, it would be "easier and fairer" for Congress to "rewrite" those pre-clearance sections that Shelby County struck down. From the editorial:
EVER SINCE the Supreme Court gutted a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder's Justice Department has been trying to patch it, using the sections of the law that the court left in place to reconstitute the checks on discrimination that had existed for decades. The Justice Department's latest move, involving a challenge to odious new voting restrictions in North Carolina, demonstrates that Mr. Holder is committed to the effort. It also demonstrates why Congress, not the Obama administration, should be the branch of government offering the primary response to the court's ruling.
With a series of wins in cases such as North Carolina's, the Justice Department could reestablish the pre-clearance requirement in many places where it used to apply. The easier and fairer way to revive pre-clearance, however, would be for Congress to rewrite the formula for which places should be covered. The Supreme Court left lawmakers that latitude, and large bipartisan majorities in Congress historically have supported pre-clearance. If lawmakers want to get back to doing something productive, resuscitating the Voting Rights Act would be a good place to start.
Considering DOJ's obligations under the VRA, the Post's objection to legally holding states accountable for voter suppression would have been unnecessarily deferential to the legislative branch in any context. In the reality of a government shutdown, the Post's call that "[i]f lawmakers want to get back to doing something productive, resuscitating the Voting Rights Act would be a good place to start" is downright bizarre.