Absurd smears against a highly-qualified judicial nominee for her support of family planning, sex equality, and conservative attempts to dismantle gender stereotypes made the jump from right-wing blogs to the Fox News Channel.
On November 25, Fox News' Shannon Bream correctly reported that the former Connecticut attorney general, among a wide collection of bipartisan legal experts, supports the nomination of the eminently qualified Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. Unfortunately, Bream proceeded to repeat right-wing media myths accusing Pillard of “radical feminis[m]” and hosted National Review Online contributor Carrie Severino to recycle the smears. From America's Newsroom, with co-host Martha MacCallum:
MACCULLUM: What are the critics saying that are opposed to her?
BREAM: Well they say she is way out of the mainstream and she deserves a lot of scrutiny. Here's a bit of what she has said when writing about abortion issue. Here's a quote from one of her articles: “Anti-abortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce woman's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a 'vision of the woman's role' as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection.” Here's Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
SEVERINO: Nina Pillard is probably the most extreme judge that has been nominated for this court and possibly for any court in the country. She has a very radical track record as a law professor, really seems to view everything from a radical feminist perspective, down to thinking that abstinence education violates the Equal Protection Clause and feeling like women are being objectified as breeders in the country.
BREAM: She has used that word referring to women as breeders if they are forced to carry pregnancies that they don't want to have. But at this point it looks like there is no blocking her, it is likely she will take a seat on that very important court.
Since Pillard was nominated, she has been subjected to sexist, retrograde, and false accusations that her views on reproductive rights are not in the mainstream. In fact, they are based on decades-old constitutional law, including a decision written by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
For example, the quote that Bream yanked out of context from a 2007 academic article in which Pillard noted that "antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a “vision of the woman's role” as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection[,]" is an explicit reference to the fact that justices on the Supreme Court have already incorporated equal protection principles into their reproductive rights precedent. Unmentioned by Bream, the quote was part of a discussion of the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.
The notion that damaging gender stereotypes can be at the core of restrictions on reproductive rights is also based on long-standing constitutional precedent.
Right-wing media already embarrassed themselves when they tried to attack Pillard for her observation that "[i]f impaired access to contraceptives hinders women's ability to exercise choice about when and whether to have children, it also reinforces broader patterns of discrimination against women as a class of presumptive breeders rather than reliable breadwinners and citizens." This quote from Pillard (again from the 2007 article) was a direct reference to Chief Justice Rehnquist's conservative condemnation of gender stereotypes in the seminal sex equality case of Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, a constitutional analysis that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council accidentally thought was an example of Pillard's "militant feminism." The swipe at Pillard for her views on abstinence-only sex education (still the same 2007 article) was equally disingenuous in that Pillard never said abstinence curricula was per se unconstitutional, only that non-comprehensive classes concerned only with girls' sexual behavior as opposed to boys' could perpetuate damaging "sex stereotypes and double standards," in addition to public health ones.
Severino, whose right-wing advocacy group changed its name from the Judicial Confirmation Network to the Judicial Crisis Network when President Barack Obama was elected, is not only repeating these ridiculous and debunked talking points in right-wing media, but has also decided to use Pillard's support of decades-old constitutional law underpinning family planning and sex equality as a 2014 campaign issue. But as Slate legal expert Dahlia Lithwick remarked, this is a strange strategy considering this draconian argument "would certainly be a disqualifying feature of her advocacy work. If it were 1854." Indeed, this line of attack already appeared to "backfire" and was abandoned by the GOP in favor of the equally spurious accusation that filling the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit was akin to "court-packing."
Nevertheless, right-wing media have dredged these attacks back up now that filibuster reform has passed, apparently continuing to think that the public and electorate are terrified of modern working women balancing careers and children.
Fox News recently promoted Megyn Kelly, who is highly critical of the same “broader patterns of [sex] discrimination” that assume working mothers are subverting the natural order of men as the dominant bread-winners. It'll be interesting to see how much influence Kelly has as Fox News starts to regurgitate hackneyed smears against the promotion of another highly accomplished working mother who has the temerity to defend family planning not in 1965, but 2013.