National Review Online attacked "contemporary progressivism" because it is "led by radical lawyers," a dubious proposition that ignores the fact that the right-wing legal movement is currently attempting to overturn decades of Supreme Court precedent.
Without any acknowledgment of the recent wave of conservative challenges to long-standing law that underpins the successes of the New Deal and the civil rights movement, NRO condemned progressives for approaching the legal profession "as a kind of revolutionary instrument." From NRO:
Perhaps the most alarming fact about contemporary progressivism is that it is a movement led by radical lawyers. The use of the law to undermine our constitutional tradition is in effect the use of the law to undermine itself. But worse than that, it is the use of the legal profession as a kind of revolutionary instrument. That is a particular problem because the legal profession has always had a special role in the Anglo-American common law tradition as precisely an anti-revolutionary instrument--a repository of cautionary precedent and prudent mulishness. "The English or the American lawyer inquires into what has been done, the French lawyer into what one ought to wish to do," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835.
As the more nuanced essay that NRO relied on noted, organizations like the NAACP did in fact have to challenge racist precedent in order to overthrow Jim Crow, a form of "radical lawyer[ing]" that has inspired practitioners since.
What the NRO failed to acknowledge, however, is that if challenging "what has been done" is "undermin[ing] our constitutional tradition," it is contemporary conservatism that is currently taking its turn, with its relentless assault on modern constitutional law.
Spurred on by right-wing media, the conservative legal movement has steadily increased its challenges to established precedent on topics ranging from the ability of the federal government to regulate the economy, the protection of the right to vote from racial discrimination, the ability for workers to effectively advocate, access to justice for plaintiffs other than well-funded corporations, prohibitions on the corruptive influence of money on elections, the ability of the country to offer equal opportunity in education for all, and the president's centuries-old power to appoint officials during recesses, just to name a few.
And then, of course, there is abortion.
(Photo by Flickr user peacearena)
National Review Online is downplaying the seriousness of an Oklahoma law currently before the Supreme Court that forces doctors to ignore safe and accepted medical practice when prescribing the drug RU-486 for medication abortions.
In response to a New York Times blog by legal expert Linda Greenhouse highlighting Oklahoma's appeal of a state supreme court decision that held its new restrictions on the use of RU-486 blatantly violated reproductive rights precedent, the NRO accused Greenhouse of "put[ting Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy on notice of how he will be treated by the liberal media if he doesn't toe their line in this term's controversial cases." From NRO:
[The case from Oklahoma, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice,] gives the Court the opportunity to clarify the ambiguous "undue burden" test Casey [v. Planned Parenthood, a 1992 Supreme Court case that allowed states to impose restrictions on access to abortion as long as they did not create an "undue burden" on women] applied to regulations of abortion. Given Kennedy's affection for Casey, there is little likelihood the Court would use this opportunity to overturn that decision, but it could give some a content to the characteristically amorphous standard conceived by Kennedy, Souter, and O'Connor in their plurality opinion. And, from my perspective at least, it seems evident that only an incredibly broad reading of "undue burden" would suffice to overturn the Oklahoma law. After all, it simply adopts the determination of the FDA and still leaves ample other methods of abortion open to women.
But in discussing the Supreme Court's decision to review Cline, NRO fails to mention that in order to "adopt the determination of the FDA," doctors will have to follow guidelines that most consider to be woefully outdated.
Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes is falsely warning that the USDA is bullying Christian organizations that distribute food to low-income individuals into "choos[ing] between Jesus and cheese," ignoring that religious organizations are allowed to provide social services as long as they comply with federal law.
In a September 9 column for FoxNews.com, Starnes said that the USDA threatened to revoke federal financial assistance from the Christian Service Center, a Christian ministry in Florida, unless the group "removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read 'Jesus is Lord' and stop[ped] giving Bibles to the needy." The sensationalist claim is already being repeated by other right-wing media outlets. From FoxNews.com:
For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.
"The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract," [Christian Service Center Executive Director Kay] Daly told me. "They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down."
Daly said it's no secret that the Christian Service Center is a Christian ministry.
"We've got pictures of Christ on more than one wall," she said. "It's very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry."
[T]he Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.
So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.
"We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we're going to trust God to provide," she told me. "If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry."
But Starnes is setting up a false choice and one that the ministry is not facing.
A Wall Street Journal editorial is mischaracterizing the Department of Justice's attempts to bring Louisiana into compliance with long-standing school desegregation orders as motivated by pro-union biases.
The editorial follows a long line of conservative media attacks against the DOJ's decision to file a lawsuit against Louisiana, asking a federal court to block the state's controversial voucher program. Despite the fact that Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal began issuing vouchers before seeking the required judicial approval, he insists that the DOJ's suit is nothing more than a scheme to advance the interests of teachers unions, a baseless charge the WSJ editorial board continues to repeat.
After accusing Education Secretary Arne Duncan of "plead[ing] ignorance" for refusing to comment on the DOJ lawsuit (neither Duncan nor the Department of Education are parties to the suit), in a September 6 editorial the WSJ went on to suggest that the "real motive" for the suit is a pro-teachers union agenda on the part of the DOJ:
[Jindal] got to the heart of the matter by noting that the real motive for this lawsuit is union politics. The teachers unions have been trying to block the voucher plan by any means possible, but so far they've failed. Bringing in the feds for a desegregation gambit is merely the latest attempt.
Jindal maintains that vouchers represent the next stage of the civil rights struggle by offering minority students at failing schools a "choice," but the DOJ argues that vouchers actually "impeded the desegregation process." More importantly, right-wing media have largely ignored the existence of numerous long-standing court orders that require Louisiana to obtain permission from a federal judge before making any changes to the education system that might negatively impact desegregation efforts.
Instead, right-wing media are accusing the Obama administration of "inhumane" treatment of students of color and comparing Attorney General Eric Holder to infamous former Alabama Gov. George Wallace who sought to illegally maintain segregation in schools. For its part, the WSJ claims that "studies" show that "voucher recipients increase integration by letting minority children escape geographic school boundaries."
As Congress returns from summer recess, right-wing media are once again helping obstruct President Barack Obama's nominees to the critical U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Picking up where it left off, National Review Online is continuing its attacks on Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard because of her purportedly wild-eyed academic writings on sex equality law, a mainstream part of American constitutional jurisprudence for decades.
Having seemingly failed to convince anyone beyond GOP Senators like Ted Cruz - who repeated NRO's talking points during Pillard's confirmation hearing - the NRO has now resorted to accusing Pillard of "false and deceptive" misrepresentations of one of these law review articles.
Specifically, NRO claims to know the true meaning of the article's words better than the author who wrote them, confidently concluding Pillard's law review piece was not academic, but rather an "ideologue['s]" manifesto of "extremism." From NRO:
In short, contrary to her testimony, Pillard wasn't playing the disinterested academic and merely identifying "the argument that one would make to make [her equal-protection challenge] amenable" to judicial resolution. Rather, she was affirmatively advocating the argument.[emphasis original]
In short, NRO is quibbling over whose paraphrase and characterization of a 53-page academic article was more correct during the hearing.
A National Review Online editorial compared Attorney General Eric Holder to a notorious Jim Crow official for blocking a Louisiana school voucher program and accused the Obama administration of dehumanizing children of color, failing to mention the Department of Justice is acting pursuant to long-standing desegregation orders.
Continuing a right-wing media campaign against the DOJ's current attempts to ensure Louisiana remains in compliance with valid court orders still in effect to prevent the re-segregation of its public schools, the NRO followed the lead of Fox News and completely ignored the law in order to champion a Republican school voucher plan.
The NRO also accused the Obama administration of "inhumane" treatment of public school students of color, comparing the attorney general to George Wallace, the infamous Alabama governor who attempted to illegally maintain school segregation.
Finally, the editorial assumed its readership was unaware of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and the well-known switch on race relations between the two parties because of federal civil rights law, ahistorically concluding "[w]ould that [Wallace's] fellow Democrats should have a similar change of heart and give up their half-century stand in the schoolhouse door." For a publication with an ugly and well-documented history of past and present racism, such smears are wildly audacious.
From the September 4 editorial:
It was 50 years ago this June that George Wallace, the Democratic governor of Alabama, made his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" to prevent two black students from enrolling at an all-white school. His slogan was "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"
These many years later, Democrats still are standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent black students from enjoying the educational benefits available to their white peers, this time in Louisiana instead of Alabama. Playing the Wallace role this time is Eric Holder, whose Justice Department is petitioning a U.S. district court to abolish a Louisiana school-choice program that helps students, most of them black, to exit failing government schools.
The Obama administration is a serial offender on this issue, and its cynicism is startling.
Setting aside the naked political cronyism that is in fact at the heart of this dispute, consider the DOJ's case on its merits: The government is arguing that the choices of actual black students and their families must be constrained in the service of preserving certain statistical measures of how black certain schools are. Put another way, this case really turns on the question: Are black children human beings?
From wildly offensive treatment of civil rights history to routine mendacity on voter ID, Fox chose to mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington by smearing the ongoing struggle for voting rights.
Over the past week leading up to President Barack Obama's commemoration of the anniversary on August 28, Fox News has been at the forefront of right-wing media attempts to discredit links between the progressive community and the civil rights legacy of the March on Washington. Voting rights, in particular, have attracted a significant amount of misinformation and ignorance, some of it quite shocking.
On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, a Battle of Normandy veteran and the NAACP's first field secretary for the state of Mississippi, was assassinated in his driveway. Shot in the back, his murder was the culmination of an extensive white supremacist terror campaign against the voting rights and desegregation advocacy of the NAACP, a cause that President John F. Kennedy championed the very night of Evers' death as both a moral and constitutional issue to ensure "American citizens of any color [can] register and  vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal."
Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, was invited to speak at the original March on Washington that took place two months later, an invitation that she was finally able to accept this past weekend at the 50th anniversary events. She warned about ongoing "efforts to turn back the clock" on the civil rights movement.
Congressman John Lewis, another veteran of the voting rights struggles, was more explicit. Also the victim of brutal violence due to his efforts to protect the right to vote, Lewis referenced the infamous Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision and told the crowd, "I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us...We must say to the Congress, fix the Voting Rights Act."
On the August 26 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham chose to follow up a recording of Lewis' call to Congress to both fix the Voting Rights Act and pass immigration reform with a gunshot sound effect. As Joan Walsh of Salon observed, even "[a]fter the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King, after the gunning down of so many civil rights workers over the years, Ingraham thought it was funny, or clever, or provocative, to 'symbolically' cut off Lewis' speech with the sound of a gun."
Fox News downplayed Colin Powell's objections to strict voter ID laws and ignored the fact that Texas not only has a long history of illegal racial discrimination in its election practices, a federal court already found its voter ID measures to be impermissible voter suppression.
On the August 26 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News host Martha MacCullum and correspondent Mike Emanuel reported on the Department of Justice's new legal challenge to the voter ID law Texas immediately enacted after the Supreme Court struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder:
Fox News failed to mention, however, that Texas is being accused of illegally suppressing the vote through a voter ID law that has already been found to be racially discriminatory by a federal court.
Writing for a three-judge panel in 2012, a circuit judge dismissed Texas' evidence that its voter ID law was not impermissibly discriminatory as "unpersuasive, invalid, or both." As explained by the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall:
[I]n Texas v. Holder, a three-judge court unanimously blocked Texas' new voter identification statute, the most stringent in the nation, finding that the statute would inevitably disenfranchise low-income Texas citizens, who are disproportionately African American and Hispanic. The court explained that, unlike Indiana, whose voter identification law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, Texas had gone to great lengths to suppress the vote in poor and minority communities, strictly limiting the types of photo identifications available - a license to carry a concealed firearm is a valid ID under the law, but not a student or Medicare ID card - and making it costly to obtain a so-called "free" election ID for use at the polls. For those without one of the five permitted photo identifications, the court found that the law was tantamount to a poll tax, "imposing an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot." The "very point" of the Voting Rights Act, the court explained, was to deny "states an end-run around the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition on racial discrimination in voting."
On August 12, a federal court judge ruled that the New York Police Department (NYPD) was improperly performing the common police tactic of "stop and frisk" by unconstitutionally targeting persons of color without reasonable suspicion. The New York City Council agreed, and passed legislation over a mayor's veto on August 23 to safeguard against future unconstitutional applications of this long-standing enforcement tactic. Right-wing media responded by ignoring the constitutional violations and instead defended the NYPD's actions for "establishing a sense of order."
Fox News hosts repeatedly attacked a federal court opinion that found that the New York Police Department's (NYPD) version of stop and frisk was unconstitutionally applied by arguing stop and frisk in general is constitutional, a misleading conflation of the NYPD's enforcement tactics and proper stop and frisk procedure.
Right-wing media repeatedly argue that increased turnout of voters of color demonstrates that strict voter ID requirements do not cause voter suppression, a relationship that experts note is a basic confusion of correlation with causation.
Right-wing media have repeatedly misrepresented the latest court opinion finding New York City has been unconstitutionally applying the common police tactic of stop and frisk and are now baselessly citing the murder rate in Chicago as an example of what will occur without this law enforcement practice.
Confronted by the most recent court opinion finding the version of stop and frisk implemented by the New York Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race and without reasonable suspicion, right-wing media have either ignored the constitutional flaws or have inaccurately assumed that the court held all stop and frisks unconstitutional.
In their defense of current practices a federal court found were not consistent with proper stop and frisks as described by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, right-wing media have also claimed that without police unconstitutionally stopping persons of color, New York City will descend into terror and criminality.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board has predicted that "the virtual war zone that was New York City from the 1970s through the early '90s" will return. Fox News hosts and contributors have called ending the unconstitutional practices that purportedly check the "disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men" and protect "people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York," a "disaster." The National Review Online editors warned the practice condemned by federal courts is nevertheless what is "prevent[ing] the city's backsliding into its pre-Giuliani state of criminal chaos[.]"
Compounding their dire but abstract warnings of the "mass murder" that will occur, right-wing media are now becoming more specific, pointing to Chicago as the future of a New York City without its current and unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics.
On the August 14 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling flatly claimed that the higher murder rate in Chicago is because it doesn't "have stop and frisk," continuing a string of recent Fox News comparisons between the two cities. The New York Post repeated this rhetoric, adding its own long-standing touch of exploiting victims of gun violence to promote stop and frisk as applied by the NYPD.
But right-wing media apparently is unaware Chicago, like many jurisdictions, already has stop and frisk.
Defending the legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the resulting gutting of the law by the conservative Justices of the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder, right-wing media insisted voter suppression is only a problem that existed in the past and long-standing voter protections are no longer necessary. But the immediate spike in discriminatory restrictions on voting after the Shelby decision proves Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right in her dissenting opinion and right-wing media was dead wrong.
Right-wing media incessantly trumpet their fidelity to the U.S. Constitution while simultaneously accusing progressives of ignoring it, a position that has been abandoned in their attacks on the court decision holding New York City stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional.
On August 12, a federal district court held that while case law has long allowed police to initiate street encounters that briefly detain and investigate persons suspected of wrongdoing, there are certain Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment parameters to the practice that the New York Police Department (NYPD) violated. Specifically, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin held that the NYPD's version of stop and frisks - generally permitted by the Supreme Court in the 1968 opinion of Terry v. Ohio - unconstitutionally targeted New Yorkers of color because of their race and without reasonable suspicion.
Rather than engage the legal analysis, right-wing media are instead defending the NYPD by downplaying or ignoring its current unconstitutionality and arguing its justification lies in its purported efficacy at reducing crime rates.
On August 13, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham appeared on Fox & Friends to dismiss the constitutional concerns over an "inconvenience" as "ludicrous" and accused the federal judge of "substitut[ing] her own view of the world, her own utopian view of how the world should be for the way the real life is, for the people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York." The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal reiterated this concern for New Yorkers, particularly those of color, by lamenting "if the judge's ruling isn't overturned, the victims won't be in the tony precincts of liberal New York. They will be in the barrios and housing projects where stop-and-frisk has helped to protect the most vulnerable citizens, who are usually minorities."
Fox News host Sean Hannity highlighted the alleged disproportionate criminality of African-American men in his sympathy for future victims at risk from a change in NYPD policy, arguing on his August 13 radio show "it's not racial profiling, or indirect racial profiling." He continued, "[the disparity in stops and frisks] mirrored the disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men, that's what [the NYPD] said." Bill O'Reilly bluntly warned on the August 13 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, "if they do away with this program, that would be a disaster."
Columnist Joe Nocera of The New York Times made a sweeping negative generalization about "mass tort" lawsuits and "plaintiffs' lawyers" because BP is currently paying out more in damages than it expected for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP pled guilty to the felony manslaughter of 11 workers who perished when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010. In addition, BP pled guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of the resulting environmental catastrophe and agreed to a $4 billion plea agreement - a record sum in criminal penalties. BP also settled in civil proceedings for damage beyond the immediate blowout, such as the extensive economic and medical harm caused to those who depend on a Gulf of Mexico unpolluted by millions of barrels of oil.
Currently, BP, which remains the "world leader in deepwater drilling," is attempting to renege on this agreement.
Defending BP's appeal of its settlement and advertising campaign warning against potential claimants "tak[ing] money they don't deserve," Nocera claimed that many Gulf residents and business owners receiving court-ordered damage awards are "basically bystanders...[with] their hands out" represented by "plaintiffs' lawyers [who] gin up cases because, well, that's what they do." From the NYT:
One of the things I find particularly offensive is that the settlement includes criteria that virtually ensure that businesses unharmed by the oil spill will get compensation. All over the Gulf, lawyers are advising clients to line up at the BP trough, and they are doing so.
But how is this righting a wrong? Why is it appropriate to transfer money from BP shareholders to people who were basically bystanders and now have their hands out? When I posed this question to the plaintiffs' lawyers who sued BP, I received a lengthy statement from one of the lead lawyers, Steven Herman, describing a formula that, he noted several times, BP had agreed to, and even encouraged. He said that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was aimed at helping people who have been harmed "indirectly." What he didn't say is that the more claimants getting BP's money, the more money winds up with the lawyers themselves.
If some claimants or attorneys have profited from illegitimate claims, that is wrong.