Carrie Severino

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  • As Polls Show Rising Support To Confirm SCOTUS Nominee, Wash. Post Lauds "Remarkably Successful" Opposition

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    The Washington Post credulously called the efforts by the discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland "remarkably successful." But polls show the general public is increasingly at odds with JCN's position. Indeed, just last week the Post reported that the results of a new poll was evidence that "Democrats are winning the message war over Garland." The Post promoted the notion of JCN's success in an interview with chief counsel Carrie Severino, who was given a platform to rehash debunked smears about Garland's judicial record on guns and government regulations.

  • Right-Wing Media Have Been Following Their Deceptive SCOTUS Nominee Playbook To A T

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    supreme-court

    On March 16, President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Before the nomination, Media Matters explained how right-wing media would respond: by following their deceptive conservative playbook against the nominee, regardless of who it was. And that's exactly what they did. Right-wing media resurrected the same tired tactics they've used before to oppose Obama's judicial nominees -- distorting the nominee's record to push alarmist rhetoric, purposefully taking past statements out of context, and lobbing attacks based on the nominee's race, gender, or religion. In the last week, we've already seen many of these plays put into action, with conservative media predictably propping up dishonest talking points and false claims dedicated to obstruction.

    Judicial Crisis Network Has Led The Pack In Pushing Debunked Misinformation On Garland's Record Into Media Coverage

    The discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) -- known as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the Bush administration, but now committed to opposing Obama judicial nominations -- has led the way in fearmongering around "one more liberal justice," attempting to re-cast Garland's record as that of an anti-gun, job-killing judicial extremist.

    JCN began its misinformation campaign well before Garland's March 16 nomination, pushing myths about the records of several potential nominees at the National Review's Bench Memos legal blog, in press statements and attack ads, and in media appearances by JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino. On March 11, Severino authored a post on the Bench Memos blog attempting to smear Garland as "very liberal on gun rights" by grossly distorting actions he took on two cases pulled from his nearly two decades of judicial service, one of which did not even concern the Second Amendment. Severino cited Garland's 2007 vote to rehear a case on D.C.'s handgun ban and his 2000 ruling in a case related to the national background check system for gun purchases to draw this baseless conclusion. But she failed to note crucial context -- voting to rehear a case in what's called an en banc review does not indicate how a judge might theoretically rule, and in both cases, Garland either acted in agreement with colleagues or other courts across the ideological spectrum. Veteran Supreme Court reporters and numerous legal experts quickly and summarily debunked these misleading claims, but other right-wing outlets have further distorted them, and JCN has pushed the myths in subsequent attack ads and media appearances.

    Following Garland's formal nomination, JCN released a series of "topline points" outlining its opposition, further misrepresenting Garland's guns record to falsely suggest he had "voted to uphold" D.C.'s handgun ban and "demonstrated a remarkable level of hostility to the Second Amendment," as well as contending Garland was "the sole dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation." Like its earlier attacks on Garland's supposedly "very liberal" guns record, JCN's newer claims about Garland's ruling in the 2002 EPA case also grossly distorted the facts.

    Some mainstream outlets have uncritically echoed JCN's debunked "topline points" and attack ads on Garland's record, and these reports -- in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio -- lend an air of undeserved legitimacy to the group's misinformation campaign against Garland.

    National Review Has Served As The Right-Wing-Media Source For Misleading Talking Points

    National Review's Supreme Court coverage to date has continued its tradition of injecting context-free talking points into mainstream reporting on the nominee. Its legal blog, Bench Memos, has served as a testing ground for new smears against Garland, hosting several misinformation-filled posts from JCN's Severino that eventually made their way into mainstream reporting and broadcast coverage. In giving space for JCN and other right-wing legal pundits like contributor Ed Whelan to distort Garland's record, Bench Memos quickly made it clear that a lack of evidence is no reason to avoid making sweeping claims about the nominee.

    Before Garland was nominated, National Review featured posts from both Severino and Whelan that attempted to smear several potential nominees. On March 7, Whelan questioned the intelligence of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson absent any evidence to suggest the accomplished federal judge was anything but qualified. That same day, Severino attempted to smear Judge Jane Kelly for fulfilling her constitutional duty of providing legal representation for an unsavory client while working as a public defender. In subsequent posts, Severino attacked Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul Watford in a series aimed to undermine their reputations as "moderates" by misrepresenting a handful of their past decisions as "extremist."

    Attacks on Garland, too, began before the March 16 nomination announcement; Severino's March 11 post on Bench Memos first floated what have since become widespread and false conservative talking points on Garland's record on guns. In the post, Severino claimed that Garland's vote to rehear a 2007 case related to the D.C. handgun ban and his joining of a ruling in a 2000 case related to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases together indicated "a very liberal approach" to the Second Amendment and a desire to overturn the 2008 Heller Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. These attacks, which legal experts quickly and repeatedly debunked, continue to pervade media coverage of opposition to Garland's nomination.

    Fox Figures Have Parroted Debunked Claims, Reporting Misinformation As Fact To A Wider Audience

    Fox News figures have predictably latched onto conservative talking points to oppose Garland, broadcasting already debunked claims about Garland's record.

    On March 16, Bret Baier, host of Fox's Special Report With Bret Baier, claimed in an interview with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that Garland "opposed Justice Scalia's take on the Second Amendment in the Heller case," misrepresenting both Garland's 2007 vote to rehear the D.C. handgun case and the case's relationship to a Supreme Court decision issued the following year. On Fox's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly further distorted JCN's talking point, incorrectly stating that Garland had "voted to keep the guns away" from private citizens in D.C., another claim about the Supreme Court nominee that PolitiFact labeled false.

    The NRA Has Launched An Opposition Campaign Based On These Recycled Talking Points

    As Media Matters warned, the National Rifle Association (NRA) quickly began pushing these right-wing media claims to justify its involvement in obstruction efforts and to fearmonger about Garland.

    Immediately following Garland's nomination on March 16, the NRA declared him "bad on guns." In a series of tweets reacting to the nomination, the NRA linked to the debunked March 11 Severino post on Bench Memos to claim that Garland would "vote to reverse" the Heller decision, and a Washington Times article pushing the same discredited claims with quotes from Severino, a spokesperson from the opposition research group America Rising Squared, and the extremist group Gun Owners of America.

    Later that day, the NRA formally announced its opposition to Garland's nomination. The move predictably mirrored the NRA's efforts to distort Sonia Sotomayor's record and to launch an unprecedented and largely ineffective ploy to threaten senators' records over their votes to confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009. Days later, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action explained the group's opposition in an op-ed in The Washington Post, regurgitating JCN's dishonest claims about Garland's 2007 en banc vote in the Parker case to fearmonger about the moderate judge.

    The NRA's opposition to Garland helped elevate JCN's long-debunked talking points on Garland all the way to Senate Republicans leading the obstruction efforts. In a March 20 appearance on Fox News Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explicitly cited the NRA's opposition to Garland as a sticking point for ongoing Senate obstruction, explaining that he "can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association."

  • TIMELINE: The Evolution Of Conservatives' Smear Of Judge Merrick Garland's Record On Guns

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    False characterizations of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's judicial record on gun-related cases pushed by discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) were echoed by conservative media and the National Rifle Association following Garland's nomination. These smears ultimately formed the basis for the continued refusal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a hearing.

  • Reminder To Media: The Judicial Crisis Network Is Still Not To Be Taken Seriously

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the weeks leading up to the March 16 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, media outlets uncritically featured discredited conservative group the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) and its debunked talking points attacking Garland and other potential nominees. Following Garland's nomination, some mainstream outlets continue to credulously cite the group and its false claims, even though JCN has a history of injecting misinformation into judicial nomination fights.

  • Supreme Court Reporters Debunk Judicial Crisis Network Claim That Merrick Garland Is Anti-Gun

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    National journalists covering the courts and legal issues are rejecting the claims from the discredited Judicial Crisis Network that a 2007 vote by Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland to rehear a case on Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban means he is hostile to Second Amendment rights. In fact, Garland never voted to uphold the ban, and a very conservative Republican judge joined him in voting to rehear the case.

  • Conservative Group Leading Obstruction Effort Against Merrick Garland Previously Lauded Him

    Judicial Crisis Network -- Whose Head Called Garland "The Best Scenario" For An Obama Nominee In 2010 -- Now Warns He's "The Ideal Judge" To Move The Court Left

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Following President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on March 16, the discredited conservative legal group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) released talking points referring to Garland as an "ideal judge" to swing the nation to the left and highlighting supposed examples of Garland's liberal ideology. But in 2010, the group's chief counsel described a potential Garland nomination in 2010 as "the best scenario we could hope for" in terms of bipartisan agreement on a Supreme Court pick.

    In keeping with the group's widely chronicled attempts to re-brand itself with shifting partisan winds and to push misleading information on Obama's past judicial nominees, the chief counsel to JCN described a potential Garland nomination in 2010 as "the best scenario we could hope for" in terms of bipartisan agreement on a Supreme Court pick.

    On March 16, as the president prepared to announce his nomination of Garland to the Supreme Court, the Judicial Crisis Network released a series of "topline points" outlining its opposition to Garland's nomination:

    WHO IS MERRICK GARLAND?

    TOPLINE POINTS:

    • President Obama wants to move the Supreme Court dramatically to the left to cement his liberal legacy for decades into the future, and Merrick Garland has been called the ideal judge to do that.
    • Judge Garland's record on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals proves that he would be a reliable fifth vote for a laundry list of extreme liberal priorities, like gutting the Second Amendment, legalizing partial-birth abortion, and unleashing unaccountable bureaucratic agencies like the EPA and the IRS.
    • Judge Garland clerked for the court's liberal icon, Justice William Brennan, and was reportedly considered for a cabinet post in President Obama's administration.
    • In multiple cases, Judge Garland has demonstrated a remarkable level of hostility toward the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, voting to uphold D.C.'s very restrictive gun restrictions, and siding with the federal government in its plan to retain Americans' personal information from background checks for firearm purchases.
    • Judge Garland was the only dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation (the "Haze Rule") that would have, in the majority's words, forced businesses "to spend millions of dollars for new technology that will have no appreciable effect" on haze in the area. Garland would have upheld the rule.
    • Judge Garland has a long record of deference to unaccountable government bureaucrats at the Department of Labor, EPA and other agencies whose regulations kill jobs and stifle economic growth.

    JCN's "topline points" state that Garland would be "the ideal judge" to "move the Supreme Court dramatically to the left" in order to "cement [Obama's] liberal legacy." The document also attacks Garland for being a "reliable fifth vote for a laundry list of extreme liberal priorities" if confirmed, and for having "clerked for the court's liberal icon, Justice William Brennan," and it pushes a debunked attack on Garland's record on the Second Amendment based on an action he took in 2007.

    But in 2010, when Obama was considering Garland as a potential nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, JCN chief council Carrie Severino said that Garland's nomination would be "the best scenario we could hope for" to ensure bipartisan comity. From The Washington Post:

    Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network said Garland may be far more liberal than his rulings indicate because he has not yet publicly staked out his position on issues such as abortion.

    "But of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland," Severino said. "He's the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch for the summer."

    The Judicial Crisis Network -- previously known as the Judicial Confirmation Network -- has a long history of shifting its mission along with its name. JCN was founded during the George W. Bush administration to push through Bush's often-far-right nominees, "support the confirmation of highly qualified individuals to the Supreme Court of the United States," and "ensure that the confirmation process for all judicial nominees is fair and that every nominee sent to the full Senate receives an up or down vote." The group -- which once derided "'obstructionists' for blocking votes on Bush nominees" -- changed its name and mission after President Obama took office. Its current mission is to support "only highly qualified individuals who share" a vision of "limited government."

    JCN plans to spend millions attacking the nominee and supporting obstruction. On February 18, JCN announced a "seven figure television, radio and digital advertising campaign on the importance of the Supreme Court in the upcoming presidential election." Severino described the goal of the campaign as giving "the people a voice. Let them decide in November what kind of Court they want." On February 29, Politico reported that the group was "ramping up its efforts to oppose" Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy with the release of an alarmist ad attacking the prospects of "one more liberal justice" on the court.

    JCN's support for obstructing the nominee mirrors the Senate GOP's unprecedented blockade.

  • Conservatives Have Been Praising Merrick Garland For Years

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On March 16, President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court. Garland has faced misleading and false attacks, as well as a concerted push for continued obstruction of any Supreme Court nominee chosen by Obama. However, some of the same conservative officials and pundits have previously lavished Garland with praise arguing that he would be a "consensus nominee" representing "the best scenario" for bipartisan support.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Myths And Facts On The Nomination Of Judge Merrick Garland To The Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT, TIMOTHY JOHNSON & PAM VOGEL

    Since the lead-up to President Obama's March 16 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, the judge has faced misleading and false attacks, as well as a concerted push for continued obstruction of any Supreme Court nominee chosen by Obama. Here are the facts about the nominee, previous lines of right-wing attack, and information on the nomination and confirmation processes going forward.

  • The Rank Hypocrisy Of Judicial Crisis Network's Smear Of Jane Kelly For Doing Her Job As A Lawyer

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a right-wing group that says it will spend millions of dollars to attack Obama's pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, has launched a smear campaign against potential nominee Judge Jane Kelly based on her record of representing criminal defendants while working as a federal public defender. But in 2005, the group supported the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, even though Roberts previously represented a serial killer. Both Roberts and Kelly were doing their duty as lawyers, but JCN only targeted Kelly with attacks.

  • Judicial Crisis Network's Dishonest Attempt To Brand Yet Another Potential SCOTUS Nominee As A Radical Makes No Sense

    JCN Now Attacking Judge Merrick Garland For Decisions Conservative Jurists Agreed With

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is now smearing Justice Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court by claiming that his 2007 vote to rehear a case on D.C.'s handgun ban meant that he is not "moderate" and that "he would vote to reverse one of Justice Scalia's most important opinions, D.C. vs. Heller, which affirmed that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms."

    In fact, in crucial context omitted by JCN's attack, Garland was joined in his vote by the very conservative Judge A. Raymond Randolph. JCN also failed to note that voting to rehear a case does not mean that a judge is committing to deciding it one way or the other.

    JCN is reportedly spending "seven figure[s]" to try to block President Obama's nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death. The group has already attacked two of the judges on Obama's shortlist, distorting the record of Sri Srinivasan and criticizing Jane Kelly for her past work as a lawyer.

    Writing at National Review, JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino is now attacking Garland, a long-serving and widely praised D.C. Circuit Court judge confirmed in 1997, for his role in a request to reconsider Parker v. District of Columbia, a case that challenged Washington's ban on handgun ownership. According to the Houston Chronicle, "Garland is regarded by legal scholars as a moderate, and he is well respected by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington."

    Parker was decided on March 9, 2007. In a 2-1 panel decision of three judges -- that Garland did not participate in -- the D.C. Circuit reversed a lower court's decision upholding the ban, finding that D.C.'s law violated the Second Amendment.

    Following the decision, the D.C. Circuit voted on whether to rehear the case en banc, a procedure where the full court can reconsider the case and decide differently. In a 6-4 vote, the court declined to rehear the case en banc. Garland was one of four justices who voted to rehear. The question in Parker about the constitutionality of D.C.'s handgun ban was finally resolved in the landmark 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned D.C.'s ban.

    In a March 11 post, Severino attacked Garland for his en banc vote, claiming that it has special significance because he "voted with Judge David Tatel, one of the most liberal judges on that court." Severino concluded that Garland's vote was evidence he would reverse Heller and that it indicated that Garland "has a very liberal view of gun rights, since he apparently wanted to undo a key court victory protecting them."

    Conspicuously, Severino does not mention that Tatel and Garland were joined, along with one other circuit judge, by George H.W. Bush appointee Justice A. Raymond Randolph:

    Randolph is well-known for his conservative views. In fact, in 2007, JCN -- which was known as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the Bush administration -- promoted an event where Randolph hosted ultra-conservative jurist Robert Bork:

    Randolph was a character witness for Bork's contentious and ultimately rejected nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. JCN's promotion of Randolph came just a few months after he had joined Garland in voting to rehear the Parker case. According to The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse, Randolph "is one of the most outspoken and agenda-driven conservatives on the entire federal bench."

    But under JCN's logic, Randolph would be branded as a threat to the Second Amendment because he voted to rehear Parker.

    Severino offered a secondary criticism of Garland in her National Review post, attacking the 2000 D.C. Circuit decision National Rifle Association v. Reno, a ruling he also joined. The JCN chief counsel did not note that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court subsequently declined to disturb the decision.

    In Reno, the NRA claimed that the way the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun purchases temporarily retained data of gun owners violated a federal prohibition on creating a registry of gun owners.

    On appeal, the NRA lost the decision, 2-1, with Garland joining Judge David S. Tatel's majority opinion, which ruled: "Finding nothing in the Brady Act that unambiguously prohibits temporary retention of information about lawful transactions, and finding that the Attorney General has reasonably interpreted the Act to permit retention of such information for audit purposes, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the complaint."

    Severino attempted to scandalize the ruling, writing, "Garland voted with Tatel to uphold an illegal Clinton-era regulation that created an improvised gun registration requirement" and that Garland is "willing to uphold executive actions that violate the rights of gun owners."

    In fact, the majority opinion Garland joined found the regulation to be legally permissible, upholding a federal district court opinion that also found the regulation to be lawful. And when the NRA appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, the conservative-leaning court declined to hear the case. The regulation that Severino calls "illegal" was never found to be illegal; instead it was eventually changed by John Ashcroft when he became George W. Bush's attorney general.