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Mourners of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court

Photo by Bsivad/ CC BY-NC 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Judicial Crisis Network, the primary right-wing group involved in supporting or opposing judicial nominees, has released a hypocritical ad that calls for a nomination to be made to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and for the Republican Senate to quickly confirm the nominee.

In February 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, JCN launched an ad campaign under the banner "Let the People Decide" that argued that the vacancy's proximity to the presidential election meant that it should be filled by that election's winner, rather than by then-President Barack Obama.


JCN's blatant hypocrisy around when it's proper to fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year -- which conveniently shifts based on what is most politically beneficial for Republicans -- comes as prominent conservative media figures and Republican Senators flip their arguments in support of President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy.

JCN pledged to spend $10 to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, after the group received a $17 million donation from an undisclosed supporter, and also spent $10 million in 2017 on efforts to confirm Justice Neil Gorusch.

This week, JCN announced a $2.2 million ad buy as "phase one" of its efforts to support the confirmation of a Trump nominee.

The same day, JCN posted an ad to its YouTube channel under the title "Follow Precedent" supporting the quick nomination and confirmation of Trump's pick. But in 2016, JCN launched a "Let the People Decide" campaign, which called for waiting until the election to move forward on a Supreme Court nomination.

On February 18, 2016, five days after Scalia died, JCN announced this "seven figure television, radio and digital advertising campaign." JCN head Carrie Severino issued a press release that said, in part, "In this first phase, we want to thank the U.S. Senators who say that the American people should decide who picks the next Supreme Court justice," and "Give the people a voice. Let them decide in November what kind of Court they want."


The hypocrisy of the Judicial Crisis Network www.youtube.com

JCN's YouTube channel still carries numerous versions of "Let the People Decide" ads, which all argued that because 2016 was an election year, the winner of the election should get to fill the vacancy.

  • NARRATOR: "It's we the people. Sometimes the politicians forget that. The Supreme Court has a vacancy, and your vote in November is your only voice. Sen. Ron Johnson agrees. The American people should decide. This isn't about Republicans or Democrats; it's about your voice. You choose the next president. The next president chooses the next justice. Call Sen. Ron Johnson. Thank him for letting the people decide."
  • NARRATOR: "The next Supreme Court justice will serve a lifetime on the bench. Their decisions will impact our nation and our way of life for generations. That's why Sen. Portman doesn't support President Obama's effort to hurry another liberal onto the court. Sen. Portman thinks that during a heated election with harsh rhetoric and America divided, it's wrong to nominate someone without the American people's input. Sen. Portman is right. We should let the people decide."
  • NARRATOR: "The Supreme Court, the highest in the land. The framers saw it as a vital check on out-of-control and unconstitutional government. Sen. Grassley wants to keep it that way. He's working to stop President Obama's plan to take the future of the court out of the people's hands. It's time to stand with Sen. Grassley and keep a president in his last days from installing a new liberal majority on the Supreme Court."
  • NARRATOR: "They said it would be too hard. A risky gamble. They said he'd have to give in and approve Obama's liberal Supreme Court nominee. Liberals attacked him over and over. But Sen. Grassley stood strong, protected the Supreme Court during a heated presidential campaign. Sen. Grassley's been fighting for Iowa's conservative values for years. This year he led the fight for the rule of law and made us proud. Tell Sen. Grassley: Thank you."

JCN's ads are often disreputable and have included debunked smears of judicial nominees the group opposes. During the last Supreme court confirmation fight, JCN devoted significant resources to defending Brett Kavanaugh against reports of sexual misconduct.

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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