Although all of President Obama's qualified nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are currently at risk of being refused an up-or-down vote by unprecedented Republican obstructionism, right-wing media have targeted Georgetown law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard in particular with misguided smears.
Despite heavy spending from the National Rifle Association, Terry McAuliffe was elected Virginia governor on a platform that included strengthening gun laws, in direct contradiction to the media myth that the NRA can determine election outcomes at will.
Conventional media wisdom outsizes the NRA's scope of influence by suggesting that the gun rights group has the ability to punish any politician who opposes its absolutist Second Amendment agenda. Following the September recall of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws, media hyped this narrative -- ignoring low voter turnout and other factors -- to suggest that the outcome should serve as a warning to politicians who would advocate for stronger gun laws.
According to the Associated Press, these elections represented "for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future." MSNBC host Chuck Todd said the lesson of the recall elections was that "every Democrat south of the Mason-Dixon Line" should stay away from the gun issue. At The Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote that the recall meant "The Death of Gun Control."
The recall elections in Colorado did not shift the balance of power in the Colorado state senate. McAuliffe's election, however, means that for the first time since 1973, Virginians elected a governor who shares the same political affiliation as the sitting president. Here are three ways in which gun policy played an important role in the governor's race.
Fox News lent credence to True the Vote's fearmongering over Obamacare and voter registration during the network's 2013 election night coverage, never acknowledging the extremist nature of the tea party group.
When signing up for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), customers are prompted with the option to register to vote. This is due to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires state agencies engaged in public assistance to offer voter registration services, including the state and federally-run exchanges.
According to True the Vote (TTV), an activist tea party group which describes itself as an election watchdog organization, the registration option will "corrupt" voter rolls and lead to "bogus voter registrations." As evidence, the group links to a report from Demos, a liberal think tank, detailing how many Americans could potentially register to vote because of the ACA. True the Vote's theory is that health care navigators like Planned Parenthood -- organizations that assist people in exploring their insurance options in the exchanges -- will use the registration information "in political activities."
A November 5 Special Report package treated True the Vote's conspiracy theory as a damning revelation. Host Bret Baier introduced the segment by saying, "The president's plan is not just about making sure everyone has insurance. There is also a not-so-subtle political objective."
Fox correspondent Shannon Bream then profiled True the Vote's concerns, featuring TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht's claims that "the implications of this are mind-blowing."
BREAM: Pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, state agencies that provide public assistance are also required to give applicants the opportunity to register to vote. A number of states believe that includes the health care exchanges. ... The Demos document also stresses that navigators be trained to walk applicants through the voter registration process, but it's the navigators critics are worried about, saying groups with partisan agendas like Planned Parenthood shouldn't be handling voter information. True the Vote, which calls itself a citizen-led organization aimed at restoring integrity to the U.S. election system, says it's been unable to get any answers about how the voter registrations are being transmitted or verified. And worries about the potential for confusion.
What Fox never admits is that True the Vote is a discredited organization with a partisan agenda.
Fox News continues to falsely accuse the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of threatening religious liberty, asserting that the bill's broad religious exemptions simply won't be enforced by the Obama administration.
During the November 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brett Baier, correspondent and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream discussed concerns about ENDA - which would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity - suggesting that the law might be used to punish religious employers:
BREAM: The stated goal of this legislation is to make sure that there's no discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, both people who oppose and support the bill say they support that, that everybody should be treated with dignity in the workplace. Their fear is that this is going to get tricky for religious employers. Drafters of the bill say, 'Well, there are religious exemptions built in.' But as you can imagine, there are plenty of skeptics who say, 'Well, look how it's working out with the [Health and Human Services] HHS contraception mandate.' So they have worries.
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson:
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A new report from the Heritage Foundation attacks the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), mounting a perverse and fallacious defense of allowing businesses to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In advance of the Senate's expected historic vote on ENDA, Heritage Foundation fellow and "ex-gay" therapy-advocate Ryan T. Anderson published a report titled "ENDA Threatens Fundamental Civil Liberties." The report, which is the culmination of Heritage's recent attacks on ENDA in conservative media, rehashes some of the worst conservative arguments against the law, which would merely prohibit employers from harassing or discriminating against LGBT employees. Here are the seven worst arguments he uses to attack ENDA:
A central conservative argument against ENDA is that the law would create "special" rights and privileges for LGBT people. According to Anderson:
ENDA creates special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Specifically, it would make it illegal for organizations with 15 or more employees to "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."
In reality, ENDA would merely extend the same employment protections that already exist under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - for race, sex, religion, age, and disability status - to include sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA's text explicitly prohibits special privileges for LGBT employees, including "preferential treatment or quotas."
Lott, pictured left of Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott attacked the presence of the mothers of deceased African-American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis at a congressional hearing on Stand Your Ground, describing them as "props" used to make "the case that there was racial bias" in the controversial self-defense law.
On the October 30 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company, Lott said the two mothers "were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws," before falsely claiming that the self-defense law had no relevance to either of their son's shooting deaths:
LOTT: Well I thought [the hearing] was somewhat surreal. Look, we had two very sympathetic witnesses that were there. Trayvon Martin's mom and another mother who had lost her son in a shooting, both of them were black, and they were there to go and try serve as props essentially for the case that there was racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws. As I say, it's very hard to say anything when you're having to deal with a mother who has lost her son, under any circumstances. I have five kids; I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with that situation.
The problem was, the reason why I was saying it was somewhat surreal is that neither of their cases really had anything to do with the debate over Stand Your Ground laws.
On October 29, Lott, along with Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton and Davis' mother Lucia McBath, testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Stand Your Ground that was held to examine a number of issues surrounding the law, including whether the law made it more likely for homicides of minorities to be ruled "justifiable."
Conservative Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will cherry-picked outlier examples of campaign finance violations while ignoring legitimate concerns about the potential for big-money donors to corrupt elections and balloted measures .
In his October 30 column, Will attacks campaign finance reform and celebrates the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for large donors to corrupt elections with outsized contributions. Will highlights a pair of lower-court cases where judges struck down regulations on political speech that affected seemingly small-time civic participation to downplay the danger of political corruption, conveniently overlooking how these decisions might make it easier for large corporations to obfuscate their own political participation:
Brick by brick, judges are dismantling the wall of separation that legislators have built between political activity and the First Amendment's protections of free speech and association. The latest examples, from Mississippi and Arizona, reflect the judiciary's proper engagement in defending citizens from the regulation of political speech, a.k.a. "campaign finance reform."
In 2011, a few like-minded friends and neighbors in Oxford, Miss., who had been meeting for a few years to discuss politics, decided to work together to support passage of an initiative amending Mississippi's Constitution. The amendment, restricting the power of the state and local governments to take private property by eminent domain, was provoked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo ruling that governments could, without violating the Fifth Amendment ("nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), take property for the "public use" of transferring it to persons who would pay more taxes to the government.
The Mississippi friends and neighbors wanted to pool their funds to purchase posters, fliers and local newspaper advertising. They discovered that if, as a group, they spent more than $200 to do these simple things, they would be required by the state's campaign finance law to register as a "political committee." And if, as individuals, any of them spent more than $200 supporting the initiative, they must report this political activity to the state.
Mississippi defines a political committee as any group of persons spending more than $200 to influence voters for or against candidates "or balloted measures." Supposedly, regulation of political activity is to prevent corruption of a candidate or the appearance thereof. How does one corrupt a "balloted measure"?
The answer to this question should be obvious, and even Will begrudgingly admits "there is some slight informational value in knowing where money supporting a voter initiative comes from." Although Will doesn't mention it, the judge in the Mississippi case clearly left the door open for future regulations of political speech, giving a nod to the possibility of improper influence with respect to ballot initiatives:
Significantly, the Court does not hold that Mississippi may not regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures. Instead, the Court holds only that under the current regulatory scheme, which is convoluted and exacting, the requirements are too burdensome for the State's $200 threshold.
Nevertheless, Will goes on to call the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- one that allowed a tsunami of corporate money to enter the election process -- an "excellent" one. But even Citizens United noted the corrupting danger of unchecked money in the political system, and transparency was explicitly recognized as the critical protection against such a problem.
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent compared himself to civil rights icon Rosa Parks in a column for conspiracy website WND where he celebrated the right to free speech. The NRA and its representatives frequently compare their movement to the civil rights struggle, claiming that restrictions on guns are similar to the conditions of segregation or racial discrimination.
In an October 30 column, Nugent called Parks his "hero" for exercising her First Amendment rights and referenced his celebrity as a guitar player to write, "I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson":
Heavily armed with whatever media bully pulpit I can muster, I exercise my First Amendment rights like my hero Rosa Parks who refused to sit at the back of the bus when that numb-nut law existed. I'm Rosa Parks with a Gibson.
Parks, who died in 2005, was a civil rights activist best known for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger. She was honored by Congress in 1999 as the "first lady of civil rights" and the "mother of the freedom movement" and was a 1996 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Nugent previously claimed in a January interview with WND that "the law-abiding gun owners of America, will be the Rosa Parks and we will sit down on the front seat of the bus." Civil rights leaders called those comments a "very disingenuous comparison," "offensive" and a "far-fetched fantasy."
Following a tragic incident in Northern California where police fatally shot a teenager whose pellet gun was mistaken for an assault weapon, questions are being raised over the National Rifle Association's role in blocking a 2011 state legislative proposal to require BB and pellet guns to be brightly colored in order to avoid confusion.
On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times by a sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa, California. The deputy, identified by media as a "gun expert", apparently believed that the pellet gun Lopez carried was an AK-47 assault weapon. Indeed, an image from a law enforcement press conference taken by The Press Democrat demonstrates the similarity between the pellet gun and an assault weapon. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also released a photo of the pellet gun Lopez was carrying:
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
The tragic shooting, now under investigation by the FBI, could have been avoided if the NRA did not block a 2011 legislative proposal in California that would have required pellet and BB guns to be brightly colored to avoid confusion with real firearms. The NRA used its lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action, to fearmonger about the proposal, while NRA News repeatedly hosted an NRA lobbyist to attack the bill.
Fox News continues to push myths about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), baselessly claiming it will undermine religious freedom. In fact, ENDA contains explicit language providing for an exemption for religious organizations from the law.
ENDA, introduced in Congress by a bipartisan group of senators and scheduled for a Senate vote as early as next week, would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the law, including a majority of Republicans, Catholics, and senior citizens. Small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike support policies protecting LGBT employees.
On the October 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier introduced a segment on ENDA and stoked fears that it could endanger religious freedom, saying, "some people want religious freedom to take a backseat to another kind of freedom":
In a report on the renewed judicial nominations struggle over three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fox News' Shannon Bream incorrectly reported that the court was balanced evenly and that past Democratic opposition to highly controversial Republican judicial nominees is equivalent to the blanket obstructionism President Obama's nominees are currently facing.
Appearing on Special Report with Bret Baier, Bream advanced the right-wing myth that filling the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit would "tip the balance" ideologically and is unnecessary, given its "lighter" caseload. From the October 29 edition of Special Report:
BREAM: The problem is this is the D.C. Circuit Court. And what's important about it is it is the key appeals court for looking at federal regulations and federal agencies, things like the EPA, the IRS. So it's something that looks at administrative action that goes around Congress. So it is a real check on administrative power. Now, this is the court that looked at the NLRB recess appointments, those appointments that the president made to the National Labor Relations Board, and found them unconstitutional. So it's very important. It's balanced right now evenly between judges who were appointed by Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, so adding even one new nominee of the president to this court is going to tip the balance. By the way, four of the current Supreme Court justices served on this court. It's very important.
BRET BAIER: But Democrats rightly point out there are a lot of empty seats so why shouldn't they be filled?
BREAM: Yeah, there are three vacancies. The President has tapped three different lawyers to fill those seats, including one who is currently a judge in a lower court. And basically, there were vacancies back when President George W. Bush was fighting to fill these seats as well. Back then Democrats said the court doesn't have enough of a workload to justify filling all of these seats. It's what Republicans are saying now and they add the workload has gotten even lighter in the last eight years. One of the judges currently sitting on the bench said this, quote, "if any more judges are added now, there won't be enough work to go around." That's from one of the current folks who's on this court.
Bream's report on Republican obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees parrots repeatedly debunked right-wing talking points. Bream is correct that the D.C. Circuit Court is a significant part of the federal court system -- it is considered second only to the Supreme Court in terms of its impact on federal law. It is strange, then, that she would uncritically report on Republican efforts to prevent the court from operating at full capacity. Moreover, her characterization of Democratic opposition to George W. Bush's D.C. Circuit nominees is demonstrably false -- that opposition did not result in the elimination of any seats, and ultimately four of Bush's nominees were confirmed. And unlike Bush's judicial picks, President Obama's nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is facing criticism for explaining to a congressional hearing panel that featured Trayvon Martin's mother that Stand Your Ground self-defense laws benefit African-Americans, a dubious theory invented by right-wing media.
Seeking to rebut statements that Stand Your Ground laws are racially discriminatory during the October 29 hearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee, Cruz defended the laws by citing "press reports" that detailed how in Florida African-American defendants were successful 55 percent of the time asserting a Stand Your Ground defense compared to a 53 percent success rate for white defendants:
CRUZ: In Florida the data show that African-American defendants have availed themselves of the Stand Your Ground defense more frequently than have Anglo defendants. According to press reports, 55 percent of African-American defendants have successfully invoked the Stand Your Ground defense in prosecutions compared to a 53 percent rate in the Anglo population. This is not about politicking, this is not about inflaming racial tensions, although some might try to use it to do that, this is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their family.
The press report Cruz referred to is likely a July 16 article from conservative website The Daily Caller that used Florida Stand Your Ground data to assert that "African Americans benefit from Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state's population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing 'Stand Your Ground' would help African Americans," while reporting the same figures cited by Cruz.
Washington Post columnist Charles Lane recycled erroneous Fox News claims about California's new TRUST Act, which details how state officials can constitutionally participate in federal immigration policy.
On October 21, Lane provided misleading talking points to right-wing media on the topic of an appellate judge's recent admission that strict voter ID has proven to be voter suppression. A week later, the exchange was reversed, with Lane repeating debunked misinformation on the TRUST Act previously broadcast by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
In his most recent column, Lane falsely claimed that the TRUST Act was "in tension" with the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States, which reaffirmed long-standing Supremacy Clause precedent that forbids state law from conflicting with federal immigration law. Like O'Reilly's confused analysis before him, this is a conflation of the unconstitutional attempts of Arizona to usurp federal immigration powers with the separate - and unchallenged - constitutional justification behind the TRUST Act. From the October 29 edition of the Post:
California's new law limits cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program, under which the fingerprints of arrestees that local police routinely send to the FBI also get routed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When ICE registers a "hit" against its database, it tells the state or local jail to hold the individual for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can pursue deportation if appropriate. Between March 2008 and September 2011, Secure Communities led to more than 142,000 deportations.
California's new law forbids police to detain anyone under Secure Communities unless the individual has been convicted of or formally charged with certain serious crimes such as murder or bribery -- but not, say, misdemeanor drunk driving.
It's the mirror image of a provision of Arizona's immigration law that essentially required Arizona police officers to check with ICE about everyone they arrested. The Obama administration opposed that as unwanted and unnecessary meddling in federal decision making -- but it was the only aspect of Arizona's crackdown that the Supreme Court upheld.
So: If the Supreme Court says that one state (Arizona) may pester federal immigration authorities with more information about detainees than they asked for, can another state (California) deny the feds information they might seek?
But the surviving provision in Arizona's troubled immigration law (SB 1070) mentioned by Lane involved communication between state and federal officials, whereas the TRUST Act delineates immigration detention powers. These are two entirely separate areas of enforcement underpinned by separate legal justifications.
Contrary to Lane's argument, that is not a "mirror image."
Media coverage of the Senate hearing on the controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law should not ignore the role the law played in the acquittal of George Zimmerman, research indicating the negative consequences of the law, and that a hearing witness who favors Stand Your Ground has had his research widely discredited by academics.