National Review Online contributor Jonathan Adler came to the defense of South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen after the Republican Governors Association ran advertisements attacking Sheheen's past as a criminal defense attorney. But NRO supported the successful efforts to smear Debo Adegbile, President Obama's choice to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, for supervising the appeal of a death row inmate's unconstitutional sentence.
Earlier this month, the Republican Governors Association released a pair of ads that attacked Sheheen, a Democrat, because he "made money off criminals," and "represented others charged with violent acts." Although other right-wing outlets began referring to Sheheen as "the molester's lawyer," Adler quickly condemned both ads. Adler, who also contributes to The Washington Post's libertarian legal blog the Volokh Conspiracy, called the ad "contemptible." He went on to explain that it was "shameful" to "attack [Sheheen] for defending those who, however horrific their crimes, needed a legal defense. A lawyer is responsible for his or her own conduct, and is not responsible for the sins of the client." Adler repeated his condemnation of the ad in a blog post at NRO, writing that "the adversary legal system relies upon the willingness of lawyers to represent even the most unpopular or unpalatable clients." He continued:
Unfortunately it seems that the attack ad specialists at the Republican Governors Association never learned these lessons, as they have produced two ads assailing South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen for having represented criminals when he worked as a criminal defense attorney. I have no doubt these ads are effective, but they are also wrong. Attorneys should not be vilified because they were willing to represent those who needed a defense, and we should fear a system in which such representation can come at the cost of one's political career.
The American Bar Association, the South Carolina Bar Association, and the former South Carolina Attorney General and former chair of the Republican Attorneys General all agreed with this condemnation of the RGA's attack on a "fundamental tenet" of American justice. In fact, the ABA has been consistent on this basic principle, having recently seen no difference in the respective attacks against Sheheen and Adegbile.
Adegbile, like Sheheen, faced serious opposition from conservatives who attacked his previous work as the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). But right-wing media went even further in his case, personally subjecting Adegbile to racialized attacks and largely misrepresenting his legal record in advance of the vote on his nomination.
Unlike Sheheen, Adegbile did not have a notable defender like Adler during his confirmation process. Adegbile was attacked by Fox News and other right-wing media figures for being a "cop-killer's coddler," and a "cop-killer advocate," because a group of attorneys at LDF represented death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal on appeal. Although LDF lawyers were successful in overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence due to a constitutional violation in his sentencing, they were not litigating his guilt, and he remains in prison for life. Nevertheless, conservative media were quick to portray Adegbile's criminal defense work as "political" because of his client's past crimes and the statements and actions of an entirely different civil rights attorney.
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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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.