Conservative media outlets hyped a misleading Breitbart report on an "Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law" in Texas to fear monger that the tribunals could supersede federal law. But the tribunals are completely voluntary and do not override federal law.
Five years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of campaign spending with its Citizens United decision, top newspapers in the three states with the most expensive judicial campaigns, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas, have largely failed to connect Citizens United with major changes in these races. The influx of money into state judicial elections following the decision has accelerated negative advertisements and campaign financing that may influence judges' decisions.
From the January 18 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.
This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.
In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.
Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.
Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.
On January 20, the day before the five-year anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court will hear yet another case that could roll back campaign finance restrictions, this time for judicial elections. Here is a media guide to some of the legal briefs filed by experts in that case, Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which warn that allowing judges to solicit campaign donations directly is a recipe for disaster.
The National Rifle Association's news show Cam & Company hosted an attorney to attack as "frivolous" and "irresponsible" a lawsuit filed against NRA corporate donor Bushmaster for making the gun used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
On December 13, several Newtown families sued Bushmaster under a "negligent entrustment" theory for the gun manufacturer's role in putting an assault weapon into the hands of a gunman who killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The lawsuit also named Bushmaster's parent company, Remington Arms Company, as well as the seller and the distributor of the gun.
Steve Halbrook, an attorney who writes about the Second Amendment and other gun issues, joined Cam & Company on December 16 to repeatedly suggest that the lawsuit was "frivolous," call for the complaint to be dismissed, and argue that Bushmaster may be entitled to compensation for attorney's fees. Halbrook is also the author of a book that advances the ahistorical claim that gun restrictions were responsible for Hitler's rise to power and served as counsel for the NRA in the landmark Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago.)
During his appearance, Halbrook said that the plaintiffs -- who are family members of teachers and children who were killed at Newtown, as well as one survivor of the attack -- and their lawyers were "extremely irresponsible" to file the lawsuit.
Radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity applauded and seemingly claimed credit for a federal judge's district court ruling in Pennsylvania that found President Obama's executive action deferring deportation for millions of undocumented family members of U.S. citizens or lawfully permanent residents to be unconstitutional.
The Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog reported that Judge Arthur Schwab, appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, "declared aspects of President Obama's executive actions on immigration policy unconstitutional," in a first of its kind opinion that is already being criticized for reaching beyond its scope to decide a constitutional question not before it.
Upon hearing Schwab's opinion, Sean Hannity wasted no time claiming partial credit for the decision. On the December 16 edition of The Sean Hannity Show, he said of the ruling, "I gotta tell you something, it almost could've been written by me, because he makes the very arguments that I had been making the entire time."
Hannity's guest, Jamie Dupree, agreed that the ruling "echoes a lot of the arguments that Republicans have been making about these actions over the last few weeks."
In fact, the Republican arguments, promoted incessantly by figures like Rush Limbaugh and Hannity, have been rejected as baseless by most legal experts across the political spectrum and President Obama's recent actions have ample precedent in the past executive actions of former presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
From the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News host Mike Huckabee advised Republicans to "grow a spine" and oppose marriage equality, blasting court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans as "the betrayal of our Constitution."
During an October 7 interview with the anti-gay American Family Association's radio program, Huckabee said that he's "utterly exasperation with Republicans ... who have abdicated on this issue," and warned that he might leave the Republican Party and become an independent if the GOP stops fighting marriage equality. The former governor of Arkansas is reportedly considering a run for president in 2016.
Huckabee reiterated his criticism in the opening monologue of his October 11 Fox News show. Huckabee denounced the court decisions that led to same-sex marriage becoming legal in several more states, emphasizing that judges overruled "the collective votes of the people themselves" in a "betrayal of our Constitution." He concluded that he is "utterly disgusted" with Republican governors and other officials that complied with the court orders overturning same-sex marriage bans, arguing that they should "[g]row a spine, show a modicum of knowledge about the way we govern ourselves, and lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way."
From the October 12 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the October 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the October 6 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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National Review Online's foremost legal analyst is continuing his colleagues' attacks on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by criticizing her for "speaking publicly on abortion policy," despite previously defending Justice Antonin Scalia's penchant for similar public comments and interviews.
In the past week, National Review "roving correspondent" Kevin Williamson echoed his outlet's debunked insinuations from 2009 that Ginsburg supported eugenics. Williamson accused her of harboring a "desire to see as many poor children killed as is feasibly possible," an argument that NRO editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg offered "three cheers for" and that Williamson later compounded when he argued that women who have abortions should be hanged. NRO legal analyst Ed Whelan continued the attacks on Ginsburg, joining other anti-choice voices in condemning Ginsburg's statements in a recent interview in which she criticized a Texas law that closed down a number of the state's reproductive health clinics, arguing that commenting on legislation that could soon be before the Supreme Court was grounds for her recusal.
But Whelan went on to broaden his critique of Ginsburg, suggesting in a later post that she not speak publicly about abortion policy at all, regardless of whether it is in reference to a reproductive justice case before the court or not. In a September 30 blog post, Whelan complained about Ginsburg speaking "on all sorts of other matters related to abortion policy" and suggested that it was improper for the justice to "speak her mind openly on this matter."
Whelan's condemnation of Ginsburg and her discussion of general "abortion policy" appears inconsistent with his defense of his former boss, Justice Antonin Scalia, who also frequently speaks on contentious public policy. For example, in 2011, when Scalia spoke at a "closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers," Whelan balked at the suggestion that Scalia's attendance at a Tea Party function was inappropriate. According to The New York Times:
M. Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former clerk to Justice Scalia, disputed [George Washington University law professor Jonathan] Turley's criticism.
"Does he think it's improper for any justice ever to speak to any group of members of Congress who might be perceived as sharing the same general political disposition?" Mr. Whelan told The Los Angeles Times. "My guess is that, schedule permitting, Scalia would be happy to speak on the same topic to any similarly sized group of members of Congress who invited him."
From the August 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox News was quick to celebrate a federal appellate court's split decision striking down a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though that ruling was almost immediately rebuked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, consistent with the decisions of two other federal courts and the widespread opinion of legal experts.
On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Halbig v. Burwell, with the two Republican appointees on the three-judge panel holding that a provision of the ACA counterintuitively makes health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans by prohibiting the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who live in states that refused to set up health insurance exchanges. Those consumers must instead buy insurance from the federal exchange website, and many had relied on the tax credits to reduce the cost of insurance. The legal theory behind this lawsuit -- that the "Affordable Care Act" would somehow decline to provide affordable care to its intended beneficiaries -- has been hyped by right-wing media since the lawsuit was filed. National Review Online called the suit "ingenious," and Washington Post columnist George Will claimed that the IRS's clarification that tax credits are available in both state and federally-run health care exchanges was an example of the agency's "breezy indifference to legality."
Fox News immediately jumped on board with the two Republican judges' validation of this right-wing legal challenge, despite the dissent's warning that "this case is about Appellants' not-so-veiled attempt to gut" the ACA rather than sound statutory interpretation.
On the July 22 edition of Outnumbered, the panel accused the Obama administration of "ignoring the ruling of the D.C. Circuit" by announcing that it would unremarkably continue to provide the subsidies while the case was appealed, but still complained about the cost of premiums that will go up if subsidies are eliminated. Co-host Harris Faulkner complained that the ruling "reminds me of the infamous quote, 'if you like your doctor, you can keep it'" since consumers may not be able to obtain cost-saving tax subsidies in the wake of the Halbig decision. Neither Faulkner, nor any of her co-hosts, mentioned the right-wing origins of this suit -- or the fact that the express purpose of Halbig and other cases like it, was to "stop the Obama health care law" by making it too expensive for consumers to purchase without tax credits.