Right-wing media are attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for suggesting that Supreme Court justices who lied to Congress in their confirmation hearings should face impeachment investigations. Their panicked reaction reveals the continued importance of the court in the conservative movement’s project to roll back an array of social and civil rights gained over the last half-century.
Ocasio-Cortez has also offered proposals that would fundamentally rein in the power of the Supreme Court and called for a mass mobilization in support of abortion rights, which right-wing media is cynically attempting to equate to the fascist insurrection Donald Trump instigated on January 6.
Conservative attacks on Ocasio-Cortez are ubiquitous, but in the days following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade the attacks have escalated, largely due to the congresswoman’s vocal and unapologetic defense of abortion rights and broader criticisms of the court. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Ocasio-Cortez said that that in instances where a justice may have lied under oath at a confirmation hearing, filed incomplete financial disclosures, or failed to recuse themselves from a case where they have a conflict of interest, impeachment “should be very seriously considered.”
Media outlets owned by the ultra-conservative Murdoch family — Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post — immediately reacted to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, perhaps betraying the degree to which she rattled their cages.
“The Justices Didn’t Lie to the Senate,” the editors of the Journal wrote in response to Ocasio-Cortez on the same day as her Meet the Press interview. The piece proceeded to outline how Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett agreed at each of their confirmation hearings that Roe was precedent, essentially a tautological claim, but that none made specific pledges regarding how they would approach that specific precedent. The editors celebrate the justices’ ability to obfuscate, a crucial skill that the conservative legal pipeline cultivates.
On Monday, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote an opinion piece for the New York Post under the headline: “No, conservative justices didn’t lie about Roe at their confirmation hearings.”
That entire day, Fox News’ on-air talent was marching in lockstep to the Journal’s orders: The justices must be protected. Host of Fox & Friends Brian Kilmeade referred to Ocasio-Cortez’s call for impeachment investigations as “extreme and inaccurate.” His co-host, Steve Doocy then referenced the Journal’s editorial, calling it a “great piece.”
“What it says, the headline is: The justices did not lie to the Senate,” Doocy continued.
Hours later, host Sandra Smith picked up the baton and ran with it, claiming there was “absolutely no proof” the justices lied during their hearings.
Fellow host Pete Hegseth added that the justices just “did what justices for decades have done,” and not say “how they would rule on a particular case pending before the courts.” He continued that “comrade” Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion was proof that she “believes that they don't get their way, our system should be torn down.”
“Neither one ever said that a precedent could never be overturned based on the case that comes before them,” insisted “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum in the afternoon.
That evening, host Jesse Watters used a graphic that read “Assault on the Court,” featuring Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and a lower-third: “AOC wants to impeach SCOTUS Justices.”
Fox News’ marquee prime-time show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, took aim at Ocasio-Cortez as well, albeit for her calls for protest rather than impeachment. “Congresswoman AOC spawned out of nowhere in front of the Supreme Court and started calling the Supreme Court illegitimate and calling for people to take to the streets,” said guest Drew Hernandez of Turning Point USA, implying Ocasio-Cortez had intended to incite violence. He also referred to abortion rights activists as a “death cult” and said abortion “is all about murdering babies at the end of the day.”
The story was the same across right-wing media. At One America News, host Addison Smith claimed that Ocasio-Cortez “might be inciting an insurrection.”
Right-wing website the Federalist ran a blog that included Ocasio-Cortez’s calls for protest under the headline: “The Pro-Abortion Movement Makes Its Violent Tendencies Clearer Than Ever.”
National Review made a pedantic argument against Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that the court is facing a legitimacy crisis. “‘Legitimate’ does not necessarily mean popular, widely liked, or admired,” argued Jim Geraghty.
Conservative pundit Dave Rubin said that Ocasio-Cortez herself should be impeached because she and other Democrats were “demanding that we pack the court and burn down all of our institutions.”
It’s also worth remembering that right-wing media figures regularly downplayed the threat that conservative justices posed to Roe at the time of their nomination. The playbook for both the justices and their media allies is the same: obfuscate what the judicial appointee believes during the confirmation process through tangled legalese, only to then cite those convoluted arguments after the fact to argue that they’ve been clear and transparent from the beginning.
The conservative movement has been engaged in a decades-long project to capture the federal judiciary writ large, and the Supreme Court specifically. Its members have now succeeded in that goal, and the movement’s response to calls to hold the court accountable — either through prescribed channels or mass mobilization — shows how central that institution is to their project.
They are focusing the lion’s share of their ire on a political opponent who is supporting structural changes to the court — backed by a broad social movement — and they are terrified she may win converts in the short term and succeed in the longer term. There’s no guarantee of that, but there is a guarantee that the Murdoch family and their fellow travelers will fight her every step of the way.