WSJ Stops Pretending Its Calls For Obstructionism Were About The Nominees' Qualifications

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

With a deal apparently sealed in the Senate that will end successful Republican filibusters on current presidential nominees to the executive branch, The Wall Street Journal revealed that its previous attacks on the proposed appointments were just an excuse to rail against long-standing progressive law.

The WSJ was an eager participant in right-wing media's attempt to bolster the GOP refusal to allow simple majority votes on President Obama's executive branch nominees. In particular, the editorial board was obsessed with smearing Thomas Perez, Labor Secretary nominee, and explicitly called upon Republicans to filibuster this cabinet pick.

In addition to calling him "tainted" because his performance as head of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division was purportedly "shady," a "flagrant abuse of his legal powers," "unacceptable in any government official," and part of a career of "bend[ing] the law to his ideological purposes," the WSJ also argued that the Republican opposition to him was "tepid" only because "[t]hey don't want to be seen opposing someone with a Spanish surname." On the eve of the bipartisan deal that finally curtailed the filibusters on seven nominees, the WSJ's last-ditch attempt to egg on continued GOP opposition to Perez was a reference to supposed "disdain" he has for the House Oversight Committee under Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Now that a vote and confirmation seems assured, however, the WSJ's latest discussion of Perez is notable for the lack of the baseless attacks on his qualifications and character that were frequent in previous editorials. Instead, the WSJ confirms that their opposition was always to effective and long-standing civil rights law that recognizes discrimination can be illegal not only in intent but also because of its impact.

Dropping its villainous characterization of Perez, the WSJ now makes clear that what it really hates is the fact that multiple banks have been punished for predatory lending and other racially discriminatory behavior under civil rights precedent, which even its own editors admit is recognized by all 11 appellate courts. From the July 16 editorial page:

The courts are the last line of defense against the Obama Administration's regulatory onslaught, and the latest legal challenge comes from the insurance industry. The home insurers sued late last month to overturn the Department of Housing and Urban Development's new rule using disparate-impact theory to prove housing discrimination.

Disparate impact lets regulators charge discrimination merely by showing that some racial or ethnic groups received fewer housing loans than other groups. There's no need to show intent to discriminate or even prove racial bias in a specific case. In practice, this means lenders and insurers must impose de facto racial quotas or risk costly lawsuits.

HUD rolled out the new rule in February to rubber-stamp Thomas Perez's campaign at the Justice Department to accuse banks of racism before the Supreme Court could rule on disparate impact's legality in a pending case.


Meanwhile, we reported last month that the Supreme Court agreed to hear a disparate-impact housing case, Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens. But we now hear the parties are in settlement talks, which no doubt thrills HUD and Mr. Perez.

The WSJ's smears of the character of the president's Democratic picks to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) - the body with exclusive jurisdiction over most federal labor law - also were noticeably absent in a separate June 16 editorial when the editors cross-referenced their criticism of decades-old disparate impact law with attacks on the legitimacy of hundreds of NLRB decisions.

Specifically, the WSJ discussed an unprecedented appellate court opinion that declared the previous recess appointments of two NLRB nominees who were part of the recent filibuster deal retroactively illegal. As The New York Times explained, "[t]he two nominees were eminently qualified for their jobs, but have been caught up in a lawsuit over the question of whether their recess appointments by Mr. Obama are constitutional. Of course, if they hadn't been filibustered in 2011, the lawsuit would never have come about."

In its editorial, the WSJ notably restrained from any mention of one of these NLRB nominees, Richard Griffin, who it had previously linked to union "extortion," "workplace sabotage," and "prominent mob families."

Of course, there is nothing preventing the editorial board from picking up its smear campaign where it left off after nominees like Perez are finally confirmed. However, any future similar character attacks should be weighed against the hollowness of the WSJ's previous charges.

It was never really about the nominees' qualifications; the WSJ just dislikes effective civil rights and labor law and has no qualms about encouraging wholesale GOP obstructionism to prevent any presidential agenda that tries to vindicate those important rights. Smearing executive nominees like Perez and Griffin was just a means to that end.

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