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.
Right-wing media continue to attack former senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee Debo Adegbile, President Obama's highly-qualified nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, with baseless smears and race-baiting.
Following the lead of an ongoing right-wing misinformation campaign against this former top lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Washington Times advanced the accusation that Adegbile's nomination is somehow offensive to police because he once worked on the twice-successful appellate appeal of the unconstitutional death sentence of a convicted murderer. Adegbile's former client remains imprisoned for life. Immediately reposted by right-wing blogger J. Christian Adams, who began the smears against Adegbile, the Times captioned its disturbing caricature of Adegbile with: "Obama's choice represents a slap in every policeman's face."
The caricature does not appear in the online edition of the Times.
Unlike The Washington Times, the American Bar Association has called Adegbile's representation of a criminal defendant's constitutional rights "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession." Moreover, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives has also lent its support to Adegbile's nomination, calling him "well qualified" and the smears on his character "troubling":
We believe that Mr. Adegbile's record of achievement is impressive, and he is well qualified for the position. Additionally, he has demonstrated a respect for the fundamental rights of all people under our constitution to have legal representation no matter how heinous the offense. We are confident in his ability to bring a balanced and ethical perspective into his role as head of the Civil Rights Division.
The attacks on Mr. Adegbile's character for upholding one's constitutional rights are troubling. To take away one's right to a proper defense because of the act committed, is against the constitutional oath that we as law enforcement officials have sworn to protect and defend. His distinguished record of achievement has centered on racial justice, constitutional rights and equal opportunity; and he should be judged on his entire body of work and not one chapter.
We empathize with the surviving families and those touched by the despicable crimes that were committed; and we understand how painful it is for them to see a conviction sustained at trial and a death sentence imposed only to be lost on appeal because of an error. But these are the laws that we have taken an oath to uphold both popular and unpopular. Civil Rights cases are some of the most controversial and complex cases that our courts face. They are based on interpretations of the US Constitution and affect the rights afforded to all of our citizens and some non-citizens. We expect the leadership of the Civil Rights Division to possess the courage to move forward on those cases that warrant it, and, after careful and thoughtful consideration have the ability to reject those cases that don't meet the legal threshold.
We believe that Mr. Debo Adegbile possesses the unique qualifications needed to lead the Civil Rights Division. He is balanced and ethical, and has demonstrated a duty to honor our Constitution through his bravery to ensure the proper representation of even an individual who has committed the most reprehensible of offenses. Our Constitution is what makes America great and has served as a model for other nations. Therefore, it is our recommendation that Mr. Debo Adegbile be quickly confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. [National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, 1/24/13]
Right-wing media have sunk to new lows in smears against President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) top official Debo Adegbile, a highly-qualified and widely praised civil rights litigator who has been senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Fox News correspondent Shannon Bream misleadingly claimed that filling the vacancies on the second-most important court in the country was less pressing than filling seats in so-called "judicial emergency" jurisdictions, while ignoring how Senate Republicans have contributed to those emergencies.
In a November 25 segment on Special Report with Bret Baier, Bream suggested that, because the D.C. Circuit is not classified as a "judicial emergency," there is no reason to quickly confirm President Obama's highly-qualified nominees to that bench, such as Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard:
BREAM: Critics say there is no reason for the president to insist these nominees, including Pillard, be approved as quickly as possible. Across the country there are four federal appellate courts so lacking in judges that there are, quote, "judicial emergencies." And this court, the D.C. Circuit, it's not one of them.
But the body that determines these "judicial emergencies," the U.S. Judicial Conference, has recommended that the D.C. Circuit retain its 11-judge complement, a capacity the current GOP filibusters are preventing.
In response to Senate Democrats invoking the so-called "nuclear option," right-wing media advanced a number of myths not only about filibuster reform, but about the qualifications of President Obama's nominees who have languished in the confirmation process. What right-wing media have ignored is that Democrats used the "nuclear option" only after unprecedented GOP obstruction prevented Obama's judicial and executive nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.
Absurd smears against a highly-qualified judicial nominee for her support of family planning, sex equality, and conservative attempts to dismantle gender stereotypes made the jump from right-wing blogs to the Fox News Channel.
On November 25, Fox News' Shannon Bream correctly reported that the former Connecticut attorney general, among a wide collection of bipartisan legal experts, supports the nomination of the eminently qualified Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. Unfortunately, Bream proceeded to repeat right-wing media myths accusing Pillard of "radical feminis[m]" and hosted National Review Online contributor Carrie Severino to recycle the smears. From America's Newsroom, with co-host Martha MacCallum:
MACCULLUM: What are the critics saying that are opposed to her?
BREAM: Well they say she is way out of the mainstream and she deserves a lot of scrutiny. Here's a bit of what she has said when writing about abortion issue. Here's a quote from one of her articles: "Anti-abortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce woman's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a 'vision of the woman's role' as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection." Here's Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
SEVERINO: Nina Pillard is probably the most extreme judge that has been nominated for this court and possibly for any court in the country. She has a very radical track record as a law professor, really seems to view everything from a radical feminist perspective, down to thinking that abstinence education violates the Equal Protection Clause and feeling like women are being objectified as breeders in the country.
BREAM: She has used that word referring to women as breeders if they are forced to carry pregnancies that they don't want to have. But at this point it looks like there is no blocking her, it is likely she will take a seat on that very important court.
Since Pillard was nominated, she has been subjected to sexist, retrograde, and false accusations that her views on reproductive rights are not in the mainstream. In fact, they are based on decades-old constitutional law, including a decision written by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
For example, the quote that Bream yanked out of context from a 2007 academic article in which Pillard noted that "antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a "vision of the woman's role" as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection[,]" is an explicit reference to the fact that justices on the Supreme Court have already incorporated equal protection principles into their reproductive rights precedent. Unmentioned by Bream, the quote was part of a discussion of the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.
The notion that damaging gender stereotypes can be at the core of restrictions on reproductive rights is also based on long-standing constitutional precedent.
Right-wing media have seized on Senate Democrats' parliamentary change to eliminate filibusters for most presidential nominees to call for Republicans to block immigration reform or advance the notion that the change makes it less likely for Republicans to act on reform. In fact, Republicans repeatedly refused to act on immigration reform long before this change took place.
National Review Online, while claiming to support a change in Senate procedure in order to "overcome partisan obstruction," refused to acknowledge that it was hyper-partisan obstructionism that forced Senate Democrats to embrace the so-called "nuclear option."
On Thursday, Senate Democrats approved a rule change that will finally allow an up-or-down vote for President Obama's nominees, who have been the victims of unprecedented Republican obstructionism. NRO, like other right-wing media outlets, colorfully responded to the rule change, with John Fund calling Democrats "snake-oil salesmen."
From NRO's November 21 editorial:
The Democrats here are helping themselves to ill-gotten gains. Using the filibuster and other stalling techniques, they kept judicial vacancies open by closing them to Bush nominees.
The filibuster is not sacred writ, and we are on record supporting procedural changes to overcome partisan obstruction. The more serious concern here is that the Democrats are attempting to pack the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit court, with a rogue's gallery of far-left nominees. That is worrisome in and of itself, but there is a deeper agenda: Much of what President Obama has done in office is of questionable legality and constitutionality. The president no doubt has in mind the sage advice of Roy Cohn: "Don't tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is." He is attempting to insulate his agenda from legal challenge by installing friendly activists throughout the federal judiciary. That is precisely what he means when he boasts, "We are remaking the courts." Republicans are in fact obstructing those appointments; unlike the nomination of John Roberts et al., these appointments deserve to be obstructed.
The filibuster is a minor issue; the major issue is that President Obama is engaged in a court-packing scheme to protect his dubious agenda, and Harry Reid's Senate is conspiring with him to do so. The voters missed their chance to forestall these shenanigans in 2012. They made the wrong decision then, and have a chance to make partial amends in 2014, when they will be deciding not only what sort of Senate they wish to have, but what sort of courts, and what sort of country.
Fund joined the chorus in a separate post, minimizing GOP obstructionism and advancing the myth that new judges are not needed on the D.C. Circuit because the court's caseload is "provably so light." Fund went on to imply Senate Democrats were hypocrites because they spoke out against the use of the nuclear option by the GOP to push through President Bush's ultra-conservative jurists back in 2005.