Recent media reports on President Obama's judicial nominations misleadingly suggest that his confirmation record is now better than that of his predecessor George W. Bush, but rampant GOP obstructionism is still contributing to an alarming amount of "judicial emergencies" across the country.
National Review Online and the right-wing Heritage Foundation recently used Obama's overall total as well as his 2014 first quarter judicial confirmation numbers to claim that the president "outpaces" his Republican predecessor, at a rate that will eventually "steamroll" the total number of Bush appointments to the federal bench.
Unfortunately, this misinformation appears to have been spurred by recent media stories that reported raw confirmation numbers, without sufficient context. For example, according to Politico, Obama is now "outpacing George W. Bush on judges," because he has succeeded in getting 237 judges confirmed, while 234 judges were confirmed "by this point in [Bush's] presidency." This total number of seated judges is what right-wing media choose to focus on in their extrapolation of Obama's ultimate record, while ignoring the president's actual seating rate (confirmations in light of total vacancies). When the number of vacancies Obama has to deal with in comparison to Bush is added to an examination of their respective records, it is evident that the president still has a long road ahead to leave office with a rate similar to his predecessor, especially in the face of Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism.
Even though the total number of Obama's confirmations has exceeded Bush's, Obama has more vacancies to fill and has to appoint more nominees than his predecessor. According to the Alliance for Justice, "Only 79% of Obama's nominees have been confirmed compared to 89% at this same point for Bush; likewise, Obama has filled only 73% of the total judicial vacancies up to this point in his presidency, while Bush had filled about 82%." As a result, says AFJ, "Bush fared significantly better in getting his nominees confirmed" than Obama has so far.
This has real-world consequences by delaying and denying justice across the country.
Conservative media's recent smear that surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is controversial because he supports doctors discussing safe gun ownership with their patients is curious given frequent complaints from right-wing media -- albeit false -- that health care reform posed a threat to the inviolable doctor-patient relationship.
Continuing the National Rifle Association's smear of surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy as anti-gun, the NRA's media arm is now claiming that "doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners in this country" because of deaths caused by medical errors.
Even though Murthy holds views on firearms that are conventional within the medical community and supported by many Americans and has said that obesity, not gun safety, would be his top priority as surgeon general, the NRA has launched a smear campaign to portray him as a threat to the Second Amendment. Conservatives in media have taken the NRA's lead to attack Murthy as anti-gun and unqualified for the job.
NRA News host Cam Edwards furthered the NRA's attack, claiming that the "Institutes [sic] of Medicine" had issued a study finding that there are as many as 440,000 deaths per year due to preventable medical errors and commenting, "[m]aybe there's an issue for the Surgeon General to take up instead of your gun ownership and my gun ownership, because it sure that appears doctors are a lot more dangerous than gun owners are in this country."
In fact, the study Edwards cited was actually authored by a medical error-focused non-profit organization that asserts "we are patients looking after each other in a health care system that could easily kill us." According to the Institute of Medicine's "widely accepted" finding, 98,000 people a year die due to hospital errors.
Fox News continued its campaign to smear President Obama's surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, presenting his mainstream views on gun policy as "problematic" and whitewashing his record to claim he doesn't have much "going for him."
The March 19 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ featured a discussion on Murthy between co-host Bill Hemmer and The Weekly Standard's Michael Warren that prominently presented the National Rifle Association's opposition to the nomination. According to Warren, "Not only do [his] political pronouncements on gun control make [Murthy] problematic but as a nominee, there's not much else going for him. He's more a political nominee than nominated for any political expertise."
Bloomberg Businessweek senior writer Paul Barrett used reports that several Democratic senators may oppose surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy to advance the tired media myth that the National Rifle Association can determine election outcomes at will.
Amid recent reports that Murthy's nomination could be delayed or withdrawn, Barrett wrote on March 17, "By all indications, the National Rifle Association and allied gun-rights groups have killed the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the next surgeon general."
While Barrett acknowledged that "[i]t seems preposterous that Murthy's attitudes toward guns -- views roughly similar to those of the twice-elected president -- may preclude him from federal office," his analysis quickly veered off-track.
The New York Times repeated the unfounded claims from critics that Obama Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is "antigun," without adequately explaining how Vivek's views on firearms are mainstream within the medical community.
As Murthy's nomination for Surgeon General moves towards a vote in the Senate, which may now be delayed, the National Rifle Association and its allies in conservative media are advancing the false narrative that Murthy is "radical" and "anti-gun" because he views gun violence in the United States as a public health concern and supports allowing doctors to ask patients about gun ownership, among other gun safety measures.
In a March 14 article, the Times devoted significant space to attacks on Murthy while only briefly noting that his views reflect those of many Americans. The article noted that an NRA message to supporters claimed that Murthy is "President Obama's radically antigun nominee," and also mentioned that a Democratic senator had received letters from constituents "who say they are alarmed by what they believe are Dr. Murthy's antigun views."
It took until the 14th paragraph of the article to note that Vivek's views on firearms are "in step with where many Americans stand on gun control," and the article made no mention of the fact that Vivek's views on guns are in keeping with the medical community.
Media conservatives are attacking Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for the post of Surgeon General, because when he was 16 he expressed concern about children being exposed to violence on television.
As Murthy's nomination has moved closer to a vote in the Senate, right-wing media have smeared him as "anti-gun" and "radical" because Murthy, like the rest of the medical community, believes gun violence is a public health concern.
The latest attack on Murthy appeared in a Daily Mail article by David Martosko, the former executive editor of the right-wing Daily Caller. Martosko's article appeared under the headline: "Revealed: Obama's controversial pick for surgeon general adopted his anti-gun stance by watching violent CARTOONS."
In the article Martosko, who is the Daily Mail's U.S. political editor, dug up a quote from when Murthy was 16 and expressed concern to the Miami Herald about children being exposed to violent cartoons:
Dr. Vivek Murthy, who founded Doctors for Obama in 2008 -- a group that later changed its name to 'Doctors for America -- was a graduating high school senior at the time, one of several valedictorians the Miami Herald interviewed.
'Vivek Murthy, 16, of Palmetto High, takes television cartoons to task' for 'the growing problem of kids and violence,' according to the Herald.
'Today, a typical elementary student wakes up on Saturday mornings to fiery gun battles, explosive scenes of terror and the violent decimation of the "bad guy" - all this in a children's cartoon,' Murthy said then.
'With such destructive influence, society's preoccupation with firearms and brutal methods of conflict resolution is no surprise.'
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox News continued its attacks on Debo Adegbile, President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and seemingly conflated the advocacy efforts of a different civil rights attorney with Adegbile's legal work as proof of his supposedly "radical" past.
On March 5, all Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted to block Adegbile's nomination following a smear campaign against Adegbile's sterling legal record by leveling racially-charged attacks and linking him to the crimes of his former client, Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a top official at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Adegbile and a team of lawyers were successful in overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence due to constitutional error. Because of the unconstitutional sentencing, Abu-Jamal's punishment was ultimately commuted to a life sentence after prosecutors elected not to pursue the death penalty for a second time.
After the failed Senate confirmation vote, Fox News continued its debunked attack that Adegbile was a "cop killer's coddler" for representing Abu-Jamal. The network then introduced a new argument that Adegbile's criminal defense work was politicized and that he "crusaded" for Abu-Jamal, "revealing a bitter bias." Referencing "critics," and Fox contributor Jonah Goldberg, Bret Baier claimed that Adegbile "went beyond the legal work and it was more about political rallies and leading rallies for Mumia and kind of became more political in his support for this character." Fox News contributor J. Christian Adams went even further:
[Adegbile] was not nominated in spite of his defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, he was nominated because of it. Because these folks think that Mumia was innocent. It is not just a question of giving somebody their day in court. Adegbile took on the wider cause, claiming America was unjust towards people of color. It was because of this rancid racial attitude that President Obama appointed him in the first place and that is why he is mad.
Fox News attempted to distinguish between Chief Justice John Roberts and civil rights litigator Debo Adegbile by arguing that Adegbile is unqualified to pass Senate nomination because his defense of a murderer was politicized, due to his alleged participation in rallies supporting his former client. However, Fox is conflating Adegbile with a former colleague of his, who GOP senators suggested had politicized the trial of his former client, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
On March 5, the Senate procedural vote that would have allowed a confirmation vote on Adegbile's nomination to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) failed, despite the fact that Adegbile is a mainstream nominee who is regarded as one of the preeminent civil rights experts of his generation by a wide spectrum of authorities, including law enforcement executives and the American Bar Association. The Senate's failure to confirm Adegbile reflects right-wing media attempts to distort his record with lies about his background and racially charged attacks, which have included labeling Adegbile a "cop killer's coddler" and a "cop-killer advocate." These attacks reference Adegbile's defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death sentence was successfully contested by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), which Adegbile headed at the time.
In light of the blocked confirmation, many have pointed out that defending a reprehensible murderer has not been a disqualifier for other high-profile government nominees, such as current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who also once represented a death-row inmate convicted of killing eight people in Florida.
On the March 5 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier attempted to distinguish Justice Roberts from Adegbile by arguing that Adegbile, unlike Roberts, "became more political in his support" of his client. Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer concluded that blocking Adegbile's confirmation was "the right thing," because although Adegbile "didn't choose the case," "the one thing that sways it here is that he participated in rallies":
From the March 5 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
From the moment Debo Adegbile was nominated to the most recent smear in the Washington Examiner, right-wing media have made clear that their objection to President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is that he is one of the preeminent civil rights attorneys of his generation.
Paradoxical? Only if you believe in civil rights precedent and the idea that civil rights experts should be the ones bringing civil rights cases.
Right-wing media, apparently, believe in none of that.
Byron York's attempt in the Examiner to tenuously link Adegbile with guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was just another example of right-wing media's concern that Adegbile might do his job a little too well. Resorting to invoking right-wing media's favorite civil rights bogeyman of the long-established legal doctrine for establishing impermissible racial discrimination from unjustified racial effects, York accused Adegbile of "embrac[ing]" the EEOC's "crazy" use of disparate impact precedent. From the March 3 column:
It's not unusual for businesses to conduct a check before hiring new employees. If the check uncovers that the applicant has, say, a felony conviction in his past -- well, that can put a quick end to the application process.
But Obama's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the use of background checks in hiring is racially discriminatory.
Hearing that, many employers might say: This is crazy. There are companies that will reject a job candidate because he posted something embarrassing on his Facebook page, and the Obama administration is warning businesses they'll be in trouble if they don't hire convicted felons?
Of course a business, after a background check, might well choose to hire a felon. But that is the employer's decision -- not the Obama administration's.
At the moment, EEOC "guidance" does not have the force of law, no matter the threats from top EEOC officials. That's where Debo Adegbile comes in. When he was with the NAACP, Adegbile praised the commission's guidelines. Now, if he becomes the assistant attorney general for civil rights, he will have the power to pursue the same or similar policies.
In written questions, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley asked Adegbile whether he would, if confirmed, "take action to abridge or eliminate an employer's ability to perform criminal background checks on potential employees." Adegbile embraced the EEOC position and suggested it would guide his own actions in the Justice Department. "If employers do perform background checks, the EEOC has released guidance on the subject," he told Grassley.
But York is stretching in this failed attempt to land a new hit on Adegbile.
On February 5, President Obama announced the nomination of state judge Darrin Gayles to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The previous nominee for that slot, state judge William Thomas, was unexpectedly blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a decision right-wing media defended.
If confirmed, Gayles will be the first black, openly gay male judge on the federal bench. But Gayles is not the first black, openly gay judge to be nominated to the Florida seat -- that would have been Thomas. Despite his initial support, Republican Senator Marco Rubio ultimately refused to support Thomas' nomination, a decision that was fatal to the nomination because nominees to the federal bench need the support of both of their home-state senators to advance.
In the wake of criticism about Rubio's flip-flop, right wing media defended the Senator's decision, claiming his belated "careful review of [Thomas'] record raised red flags" and rejecting as baseless any claims that Rubio's decision may have been "because he was a black homosexual."
But the nature of Rubio's subsequent change of heart regarding Thomas' nomination was strange. Though Rubio insisted he withdrew his support due to concerns about Thomas' "fitness" to serve, members of the Florida legal community were quick to point out the judge's extensive qualifications and his fairness in the courtroom. Indeed, although the "red flags" were purportedly supposed to involve improper sentencing in two criminal cases, the actual prosecutors involved rejected those arguments. As explained by Miranda Blue of People for the American Way:
Rubio's office provided two examples of instances in which they believed that Thomas didn't impose "appropriate criminal sentences." In both cases, Thomas imposed the highest sentence sought by the prosecution; in both cases, prosecutors praised his handling of the trials. Rubio's staff also claimed that in one of those cases, a grisly murder trial, Thomas "broke down in tears" when sentencing the defendant to death; news reports make clear that the judge's tears came when he was describing the brutal crime. As [MSNBC's] Chris Hayes put it, none of these complaints "pass the smell test."
Because of this history, national news organizations are already reporting on this nomination of Gayles to the federal bench. Rubio's office has also quickly responded to media inquiries, telling NPR "I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee." Such high-profile media scrutiny is certainly welcome in the wake of the confusing and contested reasons for the failure of the last openly gay black man to be seated to this court.
In the wake of a smear campaign of "race-baiting and dog whistle politics" against Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has formally called on right-wing media to raise the level of discourse and abandon their efforts at "character assassination" and "racially charged rhetoric."
On January 23, conservative newspaper The Washington Times ran an extremely offensive caricature attacking Adegbile. The caricature was a reference to Adegbile's successful appellate representation of a convicted murderer whose death sentence was twice confirmed to be unconstitutional. Adegbile's work on that case as one of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's top lawyers has been called "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession" by the American Bar Association.
The Times' caricature, on the other hand, referred to his nomination as "a slap in every policeman's face," a reference to the victim of Adegbile's former client.
The Leadership Conference -- a coalition of 200 of the nation's leading civil rights organizations -- responded with a statement calling the caricature "reminiscent of the racist iconography of the late 19th century designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans," a condemnation of the right-wing media attacks against Adegbile. The January 30 statement also called on the Times and Fox News specifically to "tone down this rhetoric and have a reasoned and substantive conversation on this important nomination":
Until today, we've ignored the race-baiting and dog whistle politics that form the basis of opposition to Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. We've disregarded the distortions about Adegbile's efforts to ensure that all Americans can live and work free of discrimination.
But this buffoonish and racially tinged caricature is beyond the pale of acceptable mainstream debate. This cartoon is reminiscent of the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans who were only beginning to throw off the shackles of chattel slavery.
Debo Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation with broad and bipartisan support for his confirmation. He's the son of immigrants who worked his way through law school to defend American democracy in the U.S. Supreme Court. But to the Washington Times, Fox News, and others, he's a buffoonish caricature and a "cop killer." The American Bar Association has debunked this lie, and wrapping it in racially charged rhetoric does not make it any more true.
This type of character assassination harkens back to the baseless and unrelenting attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s McCarthy hearings, which led counsel Joseph Welch to ask Senator McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
The head of the civil rights division is a vitally important office charged with defending the rights of all under the U.S. Constitution. There is no longer room for the dog whistle politics of yesteryear in a 21st century debate about an extremely well-qualified nominee to an important position such as this. We're calling on all of Adegbile's critics to tone down this rhetoric and have a reasoned and substantive conversation on this important nomination.