In April 2005, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush signed the state's "Stand Your Ground" bill into law, allowing Florida residents to defend themselves with deadly force in any "place where he or she has a right to be," with "no duty to retreat" and a reasonable belief that "it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm ... or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." The new law drew sharp criticism from gun control groups who argued that it allowed carriers of concealed weapons to shoot to kill without threat of prosecution, or even arrest. It is currently at the center of the controversy surrounding the February 26 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
At the time of its enactment, Fox News' Andrew Napolitano and Sean Hannity defended the Florida law and dismissed the concerns of critics. Napolitano even blasted the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for "misrepresenting" the law, even though he didn't actually know what the law said.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law went into effect on October 1, 2005. Since then, as Mother Jones has pointed out, Florida courts have argued that if a defendant claims self-defense in a shooting, the "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable," thus making it "surprisingly easy to evade prosecution by claiming self-defense." The law is at issue in the Martin shooting, as the shooter, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense and has thus far not been charged with a crime.
Shortly before the law took effect, the Brady Campaign went to Florida airports and handed out fliers that cautioned "visitors to take 'sensible precautions' and to be aware that altercations on highways, in nightclubs or on the beach could provoke a shooting."
"We saw a parade of hypotheticals by those who opposed this... What's important is the message it sends, and that's, 'don't attack me.'" - National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, comment to The Tallahassee Democrat, 5/12/2005
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who confronted, shot, and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has not been arrested or charged with any crime after pleading self-defense. While critics have pointed out that this claim is dubious given that Zimmerman was both much larger that Martin and armed, legal experts say that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law could prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted.
McClatchy Newspapers reports that "legal experts say Zimmerman, if arrested, would probably be charged with manslaughter and not murder -- and would have a strong defense under Florida's law, with a judge needing to decide first whether he is immune from prosecution." As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."
While the NRA's Hammer scoffed at the "parade of hypotheticals" cited by those who opposed Florida's 2005 passage of the law, the concerns of those prosecutors who raised alarm at the statute both at the time and since now seem prophetic.
In a 2005 interview with UPI, former prosecutor and Democratic state representative Dan Gelber warned of the bill, which he voted against:
"Two people in an altercation, that happens every day. Someone thinks you're looking at their wife the wrong way, somebody spills coffee on you, someone bumps into you, someone cuts you off, then all of a sudden they're in a fight... Do we tell those people that they're supposed to walk away or do we tell them that you're supposed to stand your ground and fight to the death?"
Another chapter in the right-wing media's campaign against Attorney General Eric Holder was launched yesterday as they attacked Holder's efforts to discourage people from violating the District Of Columbia's gun laws as detailed in a speech Holder gave in 1995. Not surprisingly the 17-year-old speech about trying to convince young men not to illegally carry guns instantly became the latest excuse to use the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious to attack Holder.
Following Breitbart.com's release of a short portion of Holder's speech, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com's own Mary Chastain all pushed the highly tenuous connection to Operation Fast and Furious. As Media Matters noted this morning, Holder's speech addressed his role of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and efforts to teach young people in the city that "it's not hip to carry a gun anymore," an action that was illegal in the District Of Columbia at the time.
The Blaze opened with the suggestion that "New video of Eric Holder from 1995 has surfaced, and it may put "Fast and Furious" in a much broader perspective." The Daily Caller similarly suggested a connection saying "The revelation that Holder wanted to "brainwash" people into being "anti-gun" appears to be supported by what Congress and the American people have learned about Operation Fast and Furious." Breitbart.com's Chastain asserted that Fast and Furious was about providing Holder with "material" for the "anti-gun curriculum" described in this 1995 speech.
Despite a tremendous amount of hand waving, these attacks fail to personally link Holder to the initiation or approval of the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious. As accurately noted by Charlie Savage in his December New York Times profile of Holder, "no documents or testimony" have disproved Holder's statement that he didn't know about Fast and Furious as it was underway.
Further, Bush-era investigations featured similar 'gun walking' tactics as those used in Fast and Furious. Rather then suggesting those investigations were gun control plots, Fox News and right-wing media outlets rushed to defend the Bush-era programs. The Democratic staff of the House Oversight Committee released a report in January documenting the three similar operations conducted under the Bush administration out of the ATF's Arizona offices.
Neither the Bush-era gun walking investigations or the dearth of evidence regarding Holder's purported connections to the tactics used in Fast and Furious have slowed down the right-wing media's increasingly nonsensical attacks against Holder.
The case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager who was tragically gunned down near his home in the Florida suburbs late last month, has begun to receive national media attention. The potential impact of Florida's gun laws has become a front-and-center issue at some outlets as the events in question receive scrutiny.
On the evening of February 26, Martin was returning from the local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancé with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man legally carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in that gated community. According to recordings released late Friday, Zimmerman called 911 from his car to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle then occurred which ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Zimmerman has not been arrested by police after stating that he had acted in self-defense. This has resulted in a public outcry and demands for the Department of Justice to intervene.
Media outlets have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may have effectively immunized Zimmerman from prosecution. As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense." This has led to a legal situation wherein it is possible for someone to kill a member of a rival gang in a shootout, claim they were acting in self-defense, and avoid prosecution.
On Friday, The New York Times noted the role that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may play in the case:
Florida's self-defense law, known as Stand Your Ground, grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured.
"Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida," said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. "It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It's a very low standard."
The Breitbart empire isn't letting the massive humiliation following this month's Hug-gate manufactured controversy discourage them from further "Vetting" of President Obama and his administration. In their latest effort, they've discovered that as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia nearly 20 years ago, now-Attorney General Eric Holder publicly discussed a campaign to... wait for it... encourage people in that city not to break the law.
The premise of these Breitbart.com "Vetting" pieces is that decades-old comments and connections of Obama and his advisers somehow tell us more about their agenda than what they have actually done in office. Gun violence prevention is a particularly ripe area for this effort: conservatives have desperately tried to maintain their fiction that the Obama administration is on the verge of a confiscatory gun crackdown, even as the White House makes little effort to push for even the mildest gun control legislation.
Thus, as Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Joel Pollak breathlessly explains:
Breitbart.com has uncovered video from 1995 of then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announcing a public campaign to "really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way."
Holder was addressing the Woman's National Democratic Club. In his remarks, broadcast by CSPAN 2, he explained that he intended to use anti-smoking campaigns as his model to "change the hearts and minds of people in Washington, DC" about guns.
Pollak goes on to write that in his speech, Holder said that he wanted a campaign involving television ads and celebrities to convince young people in D.C. that it is "not cool, that it's not acceptable, it's not hip to carry a gun anymore." The implication from Pollak -- and the other right-wing media outlets now picking up on his post -- is that this is evidence that Holder is virulently anti-gun. Some are even echoing right-wing conspiracies to bizarrely link the video to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
What the right-wing media never get around to mentioning is that in 1995, when Holder gave the speech, it was illegal to possess a handgun in Washington D.C.
In other words, in calling for efforts to teach young people that "it's not hip to carry a gun anymore," Holder, the chief prosecutor for the District of Columbia, was discussing a campaign to encourage citizens of his jurisdiction not to break the law.
What a bombshell!
National Review Online legal commentator Ed Whelan is praising Senate Republicans for their part in a March 14 deal that will deny some of President Obama's judicial nominees a timely confirmation vote. In a recent post, Whelan argues that Republicans scored a win by partially defeating efforts to confirm nominees who were largely uncontroversial, despite a judicial vacancies crisis that denies Americans who seek justice a chance for a day in court. Whelan's victory lap comes at a time when courtrooms are vacant, and it raises questions as who wins under the terms of the deal.
The deal reached by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a compromise over Democratic efforts to bring to a vote 17 mostly uncontroversial district court nominees in the face of Republican resistance. To break the logjam, Reid filed petitions on March 12 to end Republican filibusters on the 17 nominees. Under the deal, the two sides agreed to votes on 12 of the district court nominees, as well two court of appeals nominees, by May 7. Whelan trumpets the deal as a win for Republicans, because fewer judges will be confirmed than Democrats had wanted.
As for the substance of the deal, a Senate Republican staffer tells me: "Looks like we are just going back to regular order. Reid capitulated." Another senior Republican staffer passes on that under the gentlemen's agreement, we can expect to see what would have been expected had the cloture petitions never been filed: Senate action on a couple of these nominees every week or so.
While Whelan calls this a victory for the GOP, the deal means judges should be confirmed at a significantly faster rate than Republicans have permitted in recent history. Although it is impossible to know precisely the degree to which Republicans would have obstructed President Obama's nominees between now and May 7 absent the push to break the blockade of filibusters, if the deal stands nominees could be confirmed at a faster rate than has been the norm in this Congress.
Even with the confirmations resulting from the deal, vacancies will remain at unacceptably high levels, denying countless Americans an opportunity for justice.
This morning's edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom hosted Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips to discuss efforts by Tea Party leaders to pressure Republican congressional leadership regarding the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
Media Matters has previously noted that Phillips has a questionable claim to genuine Tea Party leadership and has made many inflammatory, conspiratorial and extremist statements that call into question the media's treatment of Phillips as either a mainstream or authoritative Tea Party figure.
Not surprisingly, Phillips spent the interview promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Fast and Furious was a plot to promote gun control instead of a failed law enforcement investigation. Phillips:
It [Fast and Furious] should be investigated, but we also have to remember the program itself was a partisan program. This was never a law enforcement sting as you described it earlier, this was purely a political operation. You send the guns down to Mexico, therefore you support the political narrative that the Obama administration wanted supported; that all these American guns are flooding Mexico, that they're the cause of the violence in Mexico and therefore we need draconian gun control laws here in America. So because the whole operation itself was political, yes by all means Congress should be all over this.
The suggestion that Fast and Furious was a gun control plot became a central talking point for the gun lobby last year and Fox News has been glad to help promote the conspiracy theory in spite of a report by House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) saying the purpose of Fast and Furious was to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case."
From the March 9 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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There is no debating that Washington D.C.'s laws include some of the most extensive anti-gun violence regulations in the United States. Since the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller overturned the city's ban on handguns, right-wing media figures and the gun lobby have complained that the law is still too restrictive. So restrictive that Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller told FoxNews.com that "they are stopping the law-abiding people from getting guns to protect themselves."
But two recent segments on Fox News demonstrate the gun lobby's media allies can't get their story straight. If they're complaining about the current gun laws, then D.C.'s laws are terrible and it's practically impossible for the law-abiding to get guns to protect themselves. If they're looking to criticize the pre-Heller gun ban then suddenly it's time to start talking about how D.C.'s violent crime has improved since the gun ban ended, presumably because people can get guns to protect themselves. The complaints about the "worst" guns laws in the nation suddenly disappear when the topic changes.
In a February 25 segment Fox hosted Miller, who complained that D.C. has the "worst laws in the country in terms of getting a legal gun." Miller cited rising crime rates from the first two months of 2012 in the city as a reason to own a gun.
Media Matters has previously discussed the right-wing media's efforts to malign Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's suggestion that Egypt look to South Africa's constitution for guidance as they draft Egypt's new Constitution. Ginburg's inoffensive suggestion that Egypt look to constitutions drafted more recently than the U.S. Constitution was aggressively distorted to suggest Ginsburg represented a "perverted judicial philosophy." The description was categorically nonsense. Ginsburg's full comments show her admiration for how the U.S. Constitution has served America and persevered over time.
With a new strain of the long running attacks against liberal Supreme Court Justices created, it comes as no surprise to see the National Rifle Association signaling that they're integrating the Ginsburg smear into their 2012 campaign.
The NRA's lobby shop has been pushing the depiction of Obama's future Supreme Court nominees and Ginsburg herself as broadly hostile to the U.S. Constitution:
But it was a much bigger shock when the [New York] Times reported in the same story that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a sitting associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and grande dame of the Court's liberal voting bloc, shares the Times' dim view of the Constitution. Ginsburg said "I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012." Her personal recommendations would instead include "the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights."
None of this should come as a surprise. One wonders, for example, if Justice Ginsburg even looks to the United States Constitution when interpreting it in 2012. [...]
While it is lamentable that the Times cannot see the greatness of our Constitution, it is far more troubling that Justice Ginsburg cannot. And most troubling of all is the possibility that if elected to a second term, President Obama could appoint even more justices who share Justice Ginsburg's views.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre also made potential Obama Supreme Court appointees a central focus in his speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, calling Justices Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan "two of the most rabidly anti-gun justices in history." LaPierre also belittled Ginsburg, saying she looked like a "giddy school girl" when she hugged President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address, and suggested her comments on Egypt called into question her oath to "uphold and defend our Constitution."
Speaking to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox pledged a piece of the gun lobby's reported $225 million dollar war chest to making the Supreme Court an issue in every Senate race in 2012. It remains to be seen whether their distortion of Ginsburg's constitution comments will be a part of that effort.
National Rifle Association chief lobbyist, Townhall.com columnist, and Daily Caller contributor Chris Cox is currently pushing for Tennessee state legislation that would prevent employers from banning their employees from storing guns in their vehicles in company parking lots while opposing any compromise that would allow employer exemptions for special circumstances. Tennessee business leaders and law enforcement groups oppose the legislation.
From the March 4 edition of Fox's America's News Headquarters:
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From the March 1 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Yesterday's testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder before a House Appropriations subcommittee concluded without the theatrical fireworks that many of his recent appearances before Congress have included. The hearing was so comparably calm that Holder even mentioned that he appreciated the more even-keeled tone of the questions even though some were critical of his tenure at the Department of Justice.
So naturally the right-wing media cherry-picked a brief moment where Holder showed somewhat heightened emotions and made that moment the focus of their hearing coverage, saying Holder was "not able to hold back his emotions," and describing Holder "losing his cool" as he "slammed the table" in response to congressional questioning.
Fox News America Live host Megyn Kelly teased a segment on Holder's testimony by saying "wait until you hear what's ticking off Eric Holder today," later describing an exchange between Holder and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) by saying that Holder was "not able to hold back his emotions."
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle apparently found this angle so compelling that he wrote a highly derivative article adding little more than misleading hyperbole and bit of background information. Boyle has previously pushed a narrative of Holder of being unable to control his temper, claiming that he "lashe[d] out" during an exchange with a Daily Caller employee. In a separate article solely about complaints from conservative critics about this purported "loss of control," Boyle even paraphrased an activist suggesting Holder may be "dangerously unstable."
Boyle continued that depiction today, writing about the exchange with Rep. Yoder in an article headlined "Holder loses cool during House hearing when asked about the ATF's failed operation Fast and Furious." Boyle:
A visibly frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder slammed the table when responding to a question about Operation Fast and Furious during a Tuesday budget hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
This is a highly exaggerated description of Holder's testimony, in which Holder forcefully said that he ordered use of the controversial gun-walking tactics associated with Operation Fast and Furious to be stopped as soon as he became aware of them. Watch the exchange highlighted by Boyle and Kelly:
The Right is cheering on the pro-corporate majority of the Roberts Court as it seems poised to close the courthouse door on victims of serious human rights violations seeking to sue corporations who participate in the wrongdoing. If the Court rules as most observers expect following Tuesday's oral argument, it will be the latest in a long line of Roberts Court decisions that have sharply restricted the ability of consumers, victims of employment discrimination and now victims of human rights violations to seek justice in court. That trend, and especially the conservative majority's decision in Citizens United, would open the Court to criticism of a "baffling double standard" under which corporate "persons" have rights, but not responsibilities.
The people bringing the lawsuit in question, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, were 12 Nigerians who claimed that the defendant corporation (commonly known as Shell Oil) assisted their government, then under the Abacha dictatorship, in massive human rights violations, including torture and murder, during the 1990s. They sued in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute, which permits foreign nationals to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts for violations of international law. Since the 1970s human rights lawyers have used this law to bring suits against individuals and corporations involved in human rights violations abroad.
In the Kiobel case, attorneys for Shell Oil argued that the statute permits lawsuits only against individuals, not corporations. Although the courts of appeal have split on the question, and the text and history of the statute provide little clear guidance, the five conservative justices who make up the Roberts Court's pro-corporate majority seemed persuaded that corporations should be immune to suit under the statute, according to most observers. Justice Anthony Kennedy, one of the five conservative justices, opened the justices' questioning of Kiobel's lawyer by quoting from a brief filed by Chevron, and as one observer noted, for Kiobel the argument went "downhill, from the start."