The Judiciary | Media Matters for America

The Judiciary

Issues ››› The Judiciary
  • Trump champion Hugh Hewitt gets his own show on MSNBC

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt will host his own show on MSNBC. Hewitt, who has called himself a “‘reluctant Trump’ voter," has a history of flip-flopping on Trump and his policies. He's been critical of Trump, even calling on him to be removed as the nominee twice during the presidential campaign, but has also defended him during his campaign, transition, and presidency. Hewitt's record suggests he will simply serve as a Republican shill on MSNBC and will continue spreading his right-wing punditry and misinformation.

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.

  • Fox uses Manchester terror attack by UK native to justify Trump's Muslim ban

    That doesn’t even make sense

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News used a deadly terror attack that killed 22 at a concert in Manchester, England, to advocate for President Donald Trump’s stalled Muslim ban, which would ban travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But this argument makes no sense given that Trump's ban doesn't apply to citizens and the attack was carried out by a U.K. native who was born in Manchester.

  • Law School Dean: Trump's Comey Actions “Are Evidence Of Obstruction Of Justice”

    Legal Experts See A Potentially Impeachable Offense In Trump's Comey Conduct

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Congress could consider actions taken by President Donald Trump regarding former FBI Director James Comey to constitute obstruction of justice warranting impeachment, legal experts tell Media Matters.

    Trump has been embroiled in controversy over his firing of Comey, who was leading an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

    On May 16, The New York Times published a bombshell report stating that “President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

    The memo purports that Trump said to Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”

    Last week, Trump himself admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that when he was deciding whether to fire Comey, he was thinking about “this Russia thing,” which he declared a “made-up story.”

    Trump’s conservative media allies -- especially those on Fox News -- have been defending and excusing the president’s actions, arguing that Trump did nothing wrong and ridiculing journalists for supposedly overreacting.

    While right-wing media are trying to convince people that what Trump did is no big deal, experts disagree.

    Legal scholars who spoke to Media Matters explained that impeachment of a president is a political matter. While a federal statute exists defining obstruction of justice, it would be up to Congress to decide whether Trump’s alleged obstruction of the Russia investigation warrants impeachment as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” of which there is “no settled definition.” (Both Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were charged by Congress with obstruction of justice during impeachment proceedings.)

    Legal experts told Media Matters that Trump’s conduct could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice, and Congress could impeach Trump on those grounds.

    Erwin Chemerinsky, the newly named dean of Berkeley Law, told Media Matters via email that Trump’s actions “are evidence of obstruction of justice” and that the current situation is “very comparable to what caused Nixon to resign.”

    “Obstruction of justice occurs when one ‘obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding.’ I think that this warrants a thorough investigation. Certainly a felony is a basis for impeachment. Whether the majority of the House will vote articles of impeachment is a different question,” Chemerinsky added.

    Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown University Law Center (GULC) professor and former Obama nominee to the Seventh Circuit, said via email that both actions taken by Trump vis-a-vis Comey could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice and that those actions could serve as grounds for impeachment.

    Regarding Trump’s reported request for Comey to “let it go” concerning the investigation of Flynn, Nourse said, “Of course, in a criminal case, you would have to show POTUS had the ‘intent’ to obstruct, but his own words are making that easier every day.”

    “The opposition will deny it, but it’s hard to understand what he meant by ‘letting’ the investigation ‘go’ ... if he did not mean to end it. Perhaps the Comey memo will reveal more.”

    John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, explained that recent comments by Trump could be seen as obstruction of justice because Trump “explained his state of mind with Lester Holt when he fired [Comey], that this was a phony investigation.”

    Asked whether this conduct could be impeachable, Dean responded, “It is, historically. You can make the case that Nixon was impeached for impeding the FBI inquiry into Watergate.” He added, “It is kind of a direct parallel, having the CIA go to the FBI and tell them to shut down is just a little more indirect than Trump saying can you not investigate Flynn, which is the import of that message when he and Comey are speaking.”

    David Pozen, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, told Media Matters that if the “serious charges” against Trump “are correct, they look like plausible violations of the president’s Constitutional oath and therefore impeachable offenses.” He added, “But it depends on the facts and, realistically, it depends on the politics.”

    Stressing that “impeachment is not a matter decided by judges, it is a political matter decided by representatives,” constitutional law professor Louis Michael Seidman at GULC told Media Matters, “It seems entirely possible that [Trump] made the advance to Comey and fired him because he wanted to stop the investigation because he was afraid of what it would turn up.”

    “If that were true, then it would be obstruction of justice,” he concluded.

  • Republicans Threaten To Use Nuclear Option On Gorsuch, Media Blame Democrats

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Media figures, many of them conservative, are pushing the false talking point that Senate Democrats are to blame for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to change the rules and allow Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. In fact, past Senate rule changes effectuated by Democrats have not applied to Supreme Court nominees, and they were made in response to historic GOP obstruction of noncontroversial Obama nominees. Gorsuch, on the other hand, is considered to be a highly ideological nominee who falls to the right of Antonin Scalia.

  • Sunday Shows Whitewash Republicans' History Of Obstructionism

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?

    [...]

    TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?

    CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.

    Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.

    Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”

    Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:

    Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."

    Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.

    Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.

  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Neil Gorsuch's Alarming Relationship With A Serial Voting Rights Misinformer

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Newly released emails from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, evidence an amicable relationship between the judge and National Review contributor and discredited conservative media legal analyst Hans von Spakovsky. The relationship is a sign that Gorsuch could continue Trump’s assault on civil rights from the high court.

    According to emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, first reported on by The Nation’s Ari Berman, Gorsuch’s communications with or about von Spakovsky paint a picture of their  friendly relationship. In 2005, Gorsuch wrote “Good for Hans” after then-President George W. Bush nominated von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission. In another email that year, Gorsuch praised von Spakovsky for participating in a Bush-era Justice Department conference on the election system at a time when "Though the Justice Department was supposed to investigate both voting discrimination and voter fraud, the latter cause took priority and eventually led to Republican US Attorneys’ being wrongly fired from their jobs for refusing to prosecute fraud cases," as explained by Berman.

    As Berman wrote, “the emails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights.” As Berman previously pointed out, Gorsuch’s “paper trail on civil-rights cases is slim,” and little is known about his views on voting rights. However, this relationship with von Spakovsky does nothing to reassure voting and civil rights advocates.

    Von Spakovsky is one of the leading conservative media misinformers on voting rights, frequently hyping the false narrative that voter fraud is widespread. In November, von Spakovsky and his frequent partner, John Fund, rehashed discredited evidence to fearmonger about noncitizen voting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The op-ed was published even though noncitizen voting is incredibly rare and studies that claim otherwise have been found to be flawed. Von Spakovsky has also erroneously suggested that double voting is not only a problem, but that it could be solved by strict voter ID laws. In 2012, von Spakovsky and Fund wrote a book filled with lies about voting rights.

    Von Spakovsky has used these lies to relentlessly advocate for unnecessarily strict voter ID laws across the nation, which have been shown to systematically disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color. To promote these laws, von Spakovsky has hyped myths and misleading details, claiming that the laws don’t lead to voter disenfranchisement and that they actually speed up the voting process. Additionally, von Spakovsky has also praised blatantly illegal voter suppression tactics.

    While von Spakovsky is often held up as a conservative expert on voting rights, his talking points are incredibly misleading and discredited, and his tactics are shady. His apparent disdain for civil rights and access to justice is supported by more than just his disregard for half a century of progressive voting rights jurisprudence. He has called the modern civil rights movement “indistinguishable” from “segregationists.” Von Spakovsky also has been a proponent of forced arbitration clauses, which are when an “employee or consumer is required to waive their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal.” Forced arbitration is terrible for consumers, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gives less consumers eligibility for financial redress than they would have through class-action settlements.

    Gorsuch’s friendly emails to and about von Spakovsky should trigger alarms among those who are worried about voting rights and civil rights in general. If confirmed, Gorsuch would be ruling on many of these issues from the bench. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 68 bills have been introduced in 2017 alone to restrict access to the ballot in 27 states -- and Trump’s lies about the election and voter fraud are only paving the way for an even wider assault on voting rights. This is to say nothing of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has a record of being incredibly hostile toward civil rights, even calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.” If Gorsuch’s correspondence with von Spakovsky is any hint, access to basic rights and liberties may only get worse.