In its continued opposition to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a proposed amendment to this historic law, The Wall Street Journal published a misleading op-ed by Hans von Spakovsky, an unreliable contributor to the National Review Online.
The op-ed of von Spakovsky, a right-wing activist who has called the "modern 'civil rights' movement" indistinguishable from "discriminators and segregationists of prior generations" and whose attempts to fearmonger about "virtually non-existent" voter fraud have been repeatedly discredited, followed a WSJ editorial that compared the bipartisan attempts of Congress to update the VRA with that of "Jim Crow era Southerners."
Although this new effort to strengthen the VRA through the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has prominent Republican support, von Spakovsky claimed "[t]his bill really isn't about the [Supreme Court's recent Shelby County v. Holder] decision. It is about having the federal government manipulate election rules to propagate racial gerrymandering and guarantee success for Democratic candidates." From the WSJ op-ed, which defended the conservative justices' gutting of the VRA in Shelby County and smeared the subsequent bipartisan efforts to repair the damage:
Before Shelby County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states to get "preclearance" from the federal government before making any voting changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old turnout data that did not reflect contemporary conditions. Census Bureau data show that black-voter turnout is on a par with or exceeds that of white voters in many of the formerly covered states and is higher than the rest of the country. We simply don't need Section 5 anymore.
In Shelby County, a radical break from precedent that has been described by experts as "on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America," the bitterly divided Supreme Court struck at the heart of the VRA's efficacy by dismantling its "preclearance" process.
Even as the conservatives did so, however, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly told Congress to fix this formula that requires covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit election changes for federal review before implementation. Contrary to von Spakovsky's strange assertion that "this bill really isn't about" Shelby County and is "an attempt to circumvent" the decision, this new bipartisan legislation is actually a direct response to Roberts' invitation to Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
Admittedly, this new formula is more complex than von Spakovsky's preferred method of determining voter suppression by "turnout data," a confusion between correlation and causation that has been described as a rudimentary failure of "Statistics 101." Rather, Section 5 of the VRA imposes the preclearance process on jurisdictions with an incorrigible track record of suppressing votes based on race, and the formula to determine this discrimination has been changed in the new legislation to incorporate a comprehensive and rolling 15-year record.
The claim of the op-ed that the old formula led to "unwarranted objections" on the part of the Department of Justice toward alleged voter suppression is also inaccurate; this preclearance mechanism has been extremely effective at stopping racially discriminatory election changes. In fact, the two cases that von Spakovsky highlights both involved Section 5 successes.
From the February 4 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
Abandoning any pretense at understanding civil rights precedent or the bipartisan-supported Voting Rights Act (VRA), The Wall Street Journal condemned as "racial mischief" Congress' recent attempt to update this historic law pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent and explicit instructions.
In last year's bitterly split opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted the most effective part of the Voting Rights Act - the "preclearance" formula by which jurisdictions with an incorrigible record of voter suppression must submit election changes to federal review before implementation. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
On January 16, Congress did just that and submitted bipartisan legislation to update the previous formula, which itself was an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort signed into law by former President George W. Bush. In a February 3 editorial, however, the WSJ declared this legislation comparable to the efforts of "Jim Crow era Southerners" and declared "Congress should let it die":
Never underestimate Congress's ability for racial mischief. In the Jim Crow era Southerners blocked civil-rights progress. Now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states.
Democrats and the strange bedfellow of Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner have introduced a bill to revise Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down last year. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Act's coverage formula no longer made sense in light of current racial realities, and the new proposal isn't much better.
The good news is that the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Senator Pat Leahy and endorsed in his State of the Union by President Obama, specifically exempts voter ID laws from the actions that could be counted as a demerit against the state's voting-rights record. That's a repudiation of Attorney General Eric Holder's politically motivated campaign against voter ID, and perhaps that's why Mr. Sensenbrenner came on board.
But that concession isn't worth the broader political intrusion that the new proposal would allow. The Voting Rights Act's current provisions still provide ample federal enforcement when local politicians limit minority rights. Federal preclearance was an extraordinary exception to the Constitution's command of equal treatment under the law, and the country's racial progress shows it is no longer needed. Congress should let it die.
The WSJ may be puzzled, but there is nothing "strange" about the fact that conservative Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is leading Republican support for the latest renewal of the VRA. Support for the VRA and its preclearance mechanism - including the formula for determining covered jurisdictions - has historically been strongly bipartisan.
Sensenbrenner was the GOP's legislative leader the last time the VRA was reauthorized in 2006, when Congress passed updates to the preclearance formula by majorities of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. As former President Ronald Reagan had done before him with the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA (another bipartisan effort, also involving Sensenbrenner), Bush publicly and proudly signed into law the 2006 preclearance mechanism that Republicans (many still in Congress) overwhelmingly supported. The current bill is specifically crafted to repeat such long-standing bipartisan support, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has stated that his "experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all ... I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."
The WSJ not only botches civil rights law history, it also botches the substance of the new amendment.
Despite President Obama's efforts to address problems that plague the African-American community, Fox host Bill O'Reilly insisted Obama never addressed the problems explicitly and lectured him on how save the black community. In his interview with the president, O'Reilly continued his condescending effort to attribute historic problems in the black community to what he called "the culture."
On the February 3 edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly played unaired portions of his interview with Obama. During the interview, O'Reilly asked the president why he and first lady Michelle Obama never "explicitly" address problems in the black community, citing statistics about families (emphasis added):
BILL O'REILLY: One of my points on the Factor is that poverty is driven by the dissolution of the American family; that is the prime mover. OK? On your watch, median income has dropped 17 percent among working families in this country. That's not a good record, it's not all your fault, part of it was this terrible recession, we all know that. Everybody knows that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK.
O'REILLY: All right. But 72 percent of babies in African-American community are born out of wedlock now.
O'REILLY: Why isn't there a campaign, by you and the first lady, to address that problem very explicitly?
OBAMA: Yeah. Actually, Bill, we address it explicitly all the time. I'll send you at least 10 speeches I've made since I've been president, talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children. Talking about the importance of young people delaying gratification. Talking about the importance of when it comes to child rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So, whether it's getting publicity or not is a whole different question.
O'REILLY: But I don't see the pressure from the federal government to go in and say, "This is wrong. This is killing futures of babies and children."
OBAMA: Well first of all, I've just got to say it, Bill; we talk about it all the time. We'll continue to talk about it. We're convening, for example, philanthropists and business people city by city who are interested in addressing these problems at the local level. There is an economic component to it as well, though.
Unfortunately for O'Reilly, President Obama has been consistent about his message to the African-American community. In a June 2008 speech in in one of the largest black churches in Chicago, Obama sharply criticized absent black fathers, explaining, "[w]e need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception." Obama continued:
"Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes," Mr. Obama said, to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. "They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."
From the February 3 edition of Fox News' The Five:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News host Geraldo Rivera apologized for calling Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman a "thug," a concession notable not only for Rivera's acknowledgement that the term had racial connotations but also because of the criticism Rivera faced for applying the term to Trayvon Martin.
Sherman became the target of heavy media criticism following comments he made about San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in a January 19 post-game interview. As the sports blog Deadspin reported, the media used the term "thug" 625 times the day after Sherman's interview. Sherman later responded to the criticism by pointing out the racial undertones of the word "thug," arguing that "it seems like it's the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays."
On the January 31 edition of Fox & Friends, Rivera highlighted Sherman's comment and apologized for his role in the attacks:
RIVERA: I called Richard Sherman a thug when he ranted about Michael Crabtree. He said the use of the word thug was the new N-word. I pondered that. I have come to agree with Richard Sherman, the Stanford grad. I will never use the word thug in that context again.
Rivera's reversal is particularly noteworthy considering his past use of the term. In March 2012, Rivera came under fire for using the same term in an attack on Trayvon Martin. Rivera suggested that Martin's clothing choice was responsible for his death, saying that "it is reality" that minorities wearing hoodies "could attract the attention, not only of the cops, but of nutjobs apparently like this George Zimmerman." In July 2013, Rivera doubled down:
RIVERA: You dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug. That's true. I stand by that.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Fox News' Sean Hannity sharply criticized MSNBC for an offensive tweet aimed at conservatives by MSNBC's Twitter account that drew a threat of boycott from Republican officials. But Hannity's demagoguery of MSNBC hid his own network's extensive history of offensive commentary.
On January 30, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus announced a boycott of MSNBC by RNC officials after the network posted an offensive tweet, which was later deleted, which stated "Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family." After Priebus demanded an apology and corrective action from MSNBC President Phil Griffin, he apologized for the tweet and fired the employee responsible for writing it later that day.
That night, Hannity hosted Priebus, who criticized MSNBC for its "intolerance" but credited MSNBC's president for quickly responding to his concerns. During the interview, Hannity aired a montage of controversial clips of MSNBC personalities that spurred other apologies, telling Priebus: "You've shown a lot of patience up until this point. ... Let's play a little montage for you and remind you of some of the things that were said even prior to this incident."
But this selective outrage hides a history of inflammatory rhetoric and race baiting by Fox News. Prominent among Fox's numerous examples is former host Glenn Beck calling President Obama a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" in July 2009. In contrast to how MSNBC handled this offensive tweet, Beck's statement was defended by Hannity himself, by Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox's parent company, and according to a new book, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes privately agreed with Beck.
From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham revived the nativist myth that "fanatic" supporters of immigration reform, which she identified as the National Council of La Raza, are motivated by "Reconquista" -- a movement that believes Mexico has a right to reclaim land it lost in the southwestern United States. She played on those fears, that immigrants will overrun the United States, to support her contention that English "is in decline" and is "actually a sign of jingoism."
On her radio show, after a caller stated that immigrants "have learned to game the system" and that there are parts of Colorado she cannot go into because she doesn't speak Spanish, Ingraham replied:
INGRAHAM: No, your language is gone. Your language -- in fact, your language is not only in decline, the English language, Chris, it's actually a sign of jingoism. Because remember the La Raza is all about -- the movement underneath La Raza, which defines the race - right, translates as "The Race" -- is: This is our land. You took our land. We're coming to take it back.
That's what the fanatics really think. That's not what Paul Ryan thinks, but that's what those people think. And Nancy Pelosi and La Raza are licking their chops about this immigration reform.
Conservative media figures have repeatedly attacked the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) to discredit the immigration reform movement and have tried to smear the group as racially motivated. NCLR, which has been lauded as "one of the nation's most respected Latino organizations," previously refuted several of the most inaccurate claims, including the fact that translating "La Raza" to mean "the race" is "factually incorrect."
Republican strategists admitted to BuzzFeed that a "loud minority" of voices that includes conservative media have helped hinder congressional action on immigration reform. Strategists and lawmakers maintain that this "small cadre of Republicans in the House, talk radio hosts and activists," use the "perceived threat of xenophobia" to drive opposition to reform and make House Republicans leery of the issue.
Indeed, right-wing media figures have repeatedly used racially tinged language to stoke fears of immigrants and force lawmakers to obstruct immigration reform. In fact, the front page of the Drudge Report this morning provides the perfect example:
Drudge linked to a column by conservative pundit Ann Coulter, a frequent guest on Fox News, who wrote that the Republicans' planned push for immigration reform will "wreck the country" and "solves" only "the rich's 'servant problem.' "
Another example is Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, who on her radio show today played on nativist fears of immigrants to raise opposition to immigration reform.
In a January 29 article, BuzzFeed reported:
[A]lthough there are a variety of reasons for inaction, one Republican lawmaker recently offered a frank acknowledgement for many members, there's one issue at play not often discussed: race.
"Part of it, I think -- and I hate to say this, because these are my people -- but I hate to say it, but it's racial," said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If you go to town halls people say things like, 'These people have different cultural customs than we do.' And that's code for race."
There are a range of policy reasons for opposing plans to liberalize immigration or to regularize undocumented immigrants in the country, ones revolving around law-and-order concerns and the labor market. But that perceived thread of xenophobia, occasionally expressed bluntly on the fringes of the Republican Party and on the talk radio airwaves, has driven many Hispanic voters away from a Republican leadership that courts them avidly. And some Republicans who back an immigration overhaul, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the Republican Party's most vocal champions of a pathway to citizenship, acknowledge that race remains a reality in the immigration debate.
BuzzFeed went on to report: "Talk radio, particularly regional and small-market talkers, have also kept up the pressure, Republicans said, explaining that the airwaves back home are constantly filled with talk of 'amnesty' that makes backing new laws difficult." The article quoted Republican strategist Brian Walsh saying that Republicans are " 'listening to a loud minority ... [but] those who oppose this haven't been challenged to say, 'What's their plan?'"
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.
National Review Online contributor John Fund used anecdotal evidence of voter fraud and specious legal analysis to continue to advocate for oppressive voter identification laws.
On January 17, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that the state's voter ID law was unconstitutional under the state constitution because "hundreds of thousands of qualified voters ... lack compliant ID," and that the state had failed to ease the burdens associated with obtaining one. As The Nation recently reported, "getting a voter ID in Pennsylvania was a bureaucratic nightmare" after the statute went into effect because "[t]here are 9,300 polling places in the state, but only seventy-one DMV offices."
But Fund apparently didn't find this scenario all that nightmarish. In a recent editorial, he dismissed the number of voters without appropriate ID as "inflated" and argued that the law should still be rescued by the state legislature:
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld on a 6-to-3 vote the constitutionality of laws requiring voter ID at the polls. Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the left-of-center judges on the Court, wrote the opinion in a case involving Indiana's voter-ID law: He found that the Court could not "conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters."
But our Constitution decentralizes our election procedures over 13,000 counties and towns, and states themselves are in charge of writing voter-ID laws should they choose to do so. Some do it better than others.
Last Friday, Judge Bernard McGinley of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found that his state's voter-ID law violated Pennsylvania's constitution because the manner in which it was implemented placed an unreasonable burden on voters. The law, passed in 2012, had been blocked from taking effect while the court case against it ground forward. McGinley's decision is likely to be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Or the legislature could pass a new version of the law that would answer the judge's objections.
McGinley concluded that the law had been implemented in a sloppy, haphazard way and that the state had not done enough to help provide IDs to voters who lacked one.
When Pennsylvania's voter-ID law is either appealed or rewritten, let's hope that the state does a better job debunking the inflated estimates that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians lacked an ID.
The state should also emphasize that even when voters show up at the polling place without an ID, they can vote on a provisional ballot. The state will count that ballot if the voter mails, faxes, or e-mails a copy of acceptable ID within six days of the election. If a person lacks the money to obtain the background documents necessary to acquire a voter ID, he can sign an affidavit attesting to that fact, after which his vote will be counted without further questions.
Fund's claim that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of strict voter ID laws is misleading -- the case he references is Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which challenged an Indiana voter ID law specifically, not the constitutionality of ID requirements in general. In the Pennsylvania case, the judge made sure to note that Crawford was not particularly relevant to his analysis, because the underlying facts that supported the legal challenges were so dissimilar. But Fund ignores this important distinction between the two cases in favor of his preferred narrative: that discriminatory voter ID laws are awesome.
In a segment criticizing comments made about Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Fox News' The Five incorrectly pointed to him as the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, ignoring Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was elected in 2013.
On January 22, co-host Andrea Tantaros, in line with an on-screen graphic, stated that Tim Scott was the only African-American senator. The discussion was a response to comments made by North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber about Scott that drew fire from conservatives.