Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning
Only a handful of Americans understand what really took place inside a Tallahassee, FL federal courtroom on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, thanks to the skewed reality presented by mainstream corporate media coverage of the latest ruling to affect Florida's attempted purge of alleged "non-citizen" voters.
The extraordinary misreporting subsequently enabled top Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott, to continue what has become a reliable pattern of public deception and disingenuous spin in its wake.
What happened, in short, on June 27, was this: The attorneys for FL Sec. of State Ken Detzner (R) walked into the federal courtroom, threw-up their hands and surrendered. There was no need for Judge Robert Hinkle to issue the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) sought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) in order to stop what the DoJ described as an illegal, systematic purge of "potential non-citizen" voters. Detzner voluntarily suspended the purge and promised the court it would not resume.
Accepting Detzner's surrender, Judge Hinkle denied the federal government's motion for a TRO, finding it unnecessary, but cautioned that the DoJ could revisit the issue if Detzner or any of Florida's county Supervisors of Elections resumed what he described as a flawed voter removal program that "probably ran afoul" of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA).
Subsequent misreporting by the corporate mainstream media succeeded, however, in turning that reality upside-down. The failure comes courtesy of an MSM that has not so much as mentioned Scott and Detzner's documented mendacity, revealed by The BRAD BLOG's exclusive investigation of public records last month, concerning the alleged "refusal" by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide FL with access to a federal immigration database for use in its attempted voter purge.
The headlines written in response to the June 27 court hearing expose a classic MSM failure. "Fla. Judge Won't Halt Voter Roll Purge", CBS Miami dutifully reported immediately after Judge Hinkle's bench ruling. Yes, concurred Fox "News", "Judge refuses to block Florida voter purge", in a headline that would be repeated by the Huffington Post and again at ABC. Agreed, wrote Bloomberg, "Federal Judge Rejects U.S. Bid to Block Voter-Roll Purge".
At the Chicago Tribune we find "Judge Rejects U.S. request to stop Florida voter purge". Indeed, from the Miami Herald, we learned "Judge halts federal attempt to block Florida's voter purge". In fact, in perhaps the most twisted headline of all, the Orlando Weekly (mis)informed its readers, "Federal judge OKs Florida voter purge".
Trouble is, each and every one of those news organizations got it wrong, just as CNN and Fox "News" got it wrong when they initially filed erroneous reports claiming that the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act.
What the media and the Governor depicted as a FL victory, one that would permit his attempted purge to continue, was, in fact, an abject capitulation by the authors of an unlawful voter roll purge...
Scott's record of deception continues
On June 27, following the court's capitulation-based denial of the TRO and subsequent MSM misreporting of same, Gov. Scott published these remarks on his official state website:
Nearly a year ago, the state requested access to a citizenship database, maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, that would allow Florida to more accurately identify non-citizens who are registered to vote. To date, the federal government continues to block access, thereby preventing Florida's efforts to ensure fair elections.
That statement comes from the same Rick Scott who was pressured to resign as chairman and CEO of Columbia/HCA after the FBI, IRS and Dept. of Health & Human Services served search warrants on the hospital chain's El Paso facilities, during their federal Medicare fraud investigation.
As Scott resigned and moved on to the lucrative field of venture capitalism, the federal investigation plowed forward, ultimately leading to the largest Medicare fraud settlement in U.S. history. Columbia/HCA agreed to pay a fine in excess of $600 million and entered a guilty plea to 14 felonies.
The above-quoted official website posting is misleading, at best, and, more likely, purposely deceitful. The former Columbia/HCA CEO-turned-governor knows it; yet Scott continues to mislead the media, the voters of Florida --- and even the federal court system --- about the truth behind his failed voter purge in the Sunshine State.
The bulk of the media don't seem to mind.
Late last month, The BRAD BLOG published a special investigative report which unraveled a web of deceit spun by Scott, Detzner and their media surrogates. The state officials had been spinning a public yarn, falsely accusing DHS of inappropriately blocking Florida's access to a federal immigration database, the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. Scott and Detzner claimed they needed access to the SAVE Program to carry out their purge of as many as 182,000 "potential non-citizens" from the Sunshine State's eligible voter rolls.
Our report revealed, through documentation received via public records requests, that Florida's repeated claims about the DHS blocking Florida's access to SAVE were untrue and belied by a series of email concessions as early as last year, by the FL Dept. of State's Asst. General Counsel Maria Matthews. Moreover, Florida officials were publicly using their false claim to advance a dark, if unsupported, conspiracy theory about the federal government nefariously attempting to enhance President Obama's re-election prospects by trying to keep alleged non-citizen voters on the rolls.
But our investigation revealed no evidence of such a federal government conspiracy. Rather, as the documents we examined made plain, Matthews acknowledged, as long ago as October of 2011, that the state of Florida simply didn't have the unique numeric identifiers required by DHS to cross-check those "suspected non-citizens" against the SAVE database --- a database which, in any case, can only verify citizenship status for naturalized citizens and individuals born abroad who derive citizenship from U.S. parentage. SAVE cannot confirm citizenship for the 87% of U.S. residents who were born in the U.S., many thousands of whom were inappropriately included on the state's list of 182,000 "potential non-citizens."
In addition to our preparation of a detailed Timeline page, Brad Friedman discussed the story at length during a televised interviewed with Thom Hartmann on June 26 and again when Friedman interviewed Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) during the June 27 episode of The BradCast on Pacific Radio's Los Angeles affiliate KPFK.
Friedman sent invitations to Scott and Detzner to join him on the June 27 BradCast, affording both the opportunity to respond live and in person to our exposé. Neither accepted the invitation, despite the previously email communications from the Communications Directors of both officials. Instead, on the very same day, Scott not only repeated the previously debunked "blocked access" canard on his official FL website, but went so far as to post another misleading assertion, claiming that the capitulation-predicated denial of the DoJ's request for a TRO had shifted "the burden on the federal government to provide Florida with access to [the SAVE] database".
As with Scott's previous claims, that one is misleading at best and, more accurately, simply untrue.
Different lawsuit, unrelated ruling
Scott's website claims conflate two separate lawsuits pending in federal court.
On June 12, FL filed filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., ostensibly seeking a court order compelling DHS to provide the state with access to the SAVE Program, access to which, the complaint alleges, had been unlawfully "refused".
That same day, the DoJ filed its lawsuit, United States v. Florida [PDF], in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, FL seeking the order to halt the purge of the state's list of "potential non-citizens" on the grounds that it amounts to a systematic program to remove voters from the rolls within 90 days of the next federal election in violation of the NVRA.
Because, at that time the complaint was filed, Scott and Detzner refused to terminate the purge, the DoJ, in U.S. v. Florida, moved for the issuance of a TRO that would immediately force them to stop it.
Although Judge Hinkle issued an order [PDF] in which he denied the DoJ's request for a TRO, contrary to the widely disseminated reports, based on an erroneous AP account, Judge Hinkle did not determine that the purge could continue. The decision was most definitely not a win for Scott and Detzner, despite the way the pair, and the media, portrayed it. To the contrary, the temporary injunction was denied, for now, only because the DoJ could no longer demonstrate irreparable harm.
The order was the product of an abject surrender by Scott and Detzner, the latter of whom, according to Judge Hinkle's decision, advised the court that he "had suspended the program and will not resume it". That surrender rendered the need for an injunction moot, as Detzner had finally agreed to do the very thing the DoJ had asked him to do via the May 31 letter from T. Christian Herren, Chief of the Voting Section of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division to the FL Sec. of State.
Moreover, the denial of the TRO had absolutely nothing to do with Florida's claim that it has been unlawfully denied access to the SAVE database, as suggested by Scott's web statement --- separate case; different venue; different issue.
Although Judge Hinkle ruled that a state could, and should, remove those who are known to be non-citizens from the eligible voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election, he did not rule that Florida's systematic purge could continue. To the contrary, Hinkle described "major flaws" in Detzner's purge program. He concluded that the program "probably ran afoul" of Section 8(b) of the NVRA --- a section that "requires a state program that is intended 'to protect the integrity of the electoral process' --- by providing an 'accurate' voter roll --- to be 'uniform' and 'nondiscriminatory.'"
There is no doubt that, if Detzner had not advised the court that he had suspended the purge and would not resume it, a TRO would have been issued on that basis. However, as Judge Hinkle explained, there was "no need for an injunction prohibiting the Secretary from continuing a program he has unequivocally said he will not continue."
Playing fast-and-loose with the court?
A troubling question remains, however. Immediately after the hearing, the less-than-reliable AP reported that Scott's Communications Director, "Brian Burgess told reporters that state election officials have no plans to tell Lee and Collier election officials to stop their actions." Subsequently, Ari Berman of The Nation reported that Lee County is still carrying out the original purge.
If these accounts are accurate, they may suggest that Detzner's office played it fast-and-loose in their appearance before Judge Hinkle.
If so, it wouldn't be the first time. As The BRAD BLOG detailed in our late-June exclusive, the state of Florida has already displayed a willingness to offer a legal position that implied a lack of candor in a court filing. In its case against the DHS, Florida failed to mention in the body of its complaint that its own Asst. General Counsel at its own Dept. of State had long ago acknowledged to the federal agency via email that her department was unable to supply the requisite identifiers needed to access the SAVE database.
If Berman is correct about Lee County, it may be necessary for the DoJ to seek an injunction against the Lee County Supervisor of Elections in order to halt the purge in that county. Indeed, in his decision, Judge Hinkle cautioned that if Detzner "or the supervisors of elections go forward with the program the Secretary says he has abandoned, the issue can be revisited."
Meanwhile, most in the corporate mainstream media have reported, uncritically, Scott and Detzner's unverified claims that 107 registered voters, to date, have been identified as "non-citizens" thanks to their attempted purge. That would be 107 out of Florida's 11.2 million voters, which Scott describes as as "an alarming number" on his official website, adding that "many" have cast illegal votes in past elections.
That claim, however, like so many of the others made by Scott and fellow state officials of late, proves to be far less than meets the eye, as we will detail in an upcoming report. Suffice to say for now, the deception about the voting rolls in the state of Florida by its top Republican officials in advance of the 2012 Presidential Election continues, whether the mainstream corporate media succeeds in noticing or not.
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.