The Curse of Michael Steele: The Republican National Committee’s Shameful, Outrageous Supreme Court Lie

Michael Steele, when he was its Chair, brought Republican National Committee operations to a new ethical low that might have been favored by Michael Corleone. He never did anything this despicable, however, perhaps because he was replaced just as he was getting warmed up. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because even Steele knew that some political tactics were just too despicable to engage in.

In a web ad circulated this week designed to attack the health care reform law, the Republican National Committee excerpts the opening seconds of the March 27 presentation to the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, defending the law’s constitutionality. In the ad, he is heard struggling for words and twice stopping to drink water. “Obamacare,” the ad concludes, in words shown against a photograph of the high court. “It’s a tough sell.”

The transcript and recordings, however, give a different impression. Verrilli took a sip of water just once, paused for a much briefer period and completed his thought — rather than stuttering and trailing off as heard in the ad. In short, the tape was edited by the RNC to misrepresent what occurred inside the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is a lie, and a particularly heinous one, even by political ad standards, which are a cut below Shamwow and the Fishin’ Magician. Even by Michael Steele standards—he who twice approved fundraising appeals disguised to look like U.S. Census documents.

RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer called the video a “mash-up ” that splices together several separate pauses and stutters by Verrilli during the first two minutes of his argument. “Are there multiple clips in that video? Yes,” Spicer told Bloomberg. “The point was that he continually had to stop because he was having trouble making the case for why Obamacare was valid.”

No, the point is that the clip is false, deceptive and dishonest, and that you are an unethical, untrustworthy, unprofessional blight on American politics. That’s the point.

While Solicitor General Verrilli paused once to drink water during the opening moments of his presentation, he stopped talking for only a few seconds before continuing with his argument. In the RNC ad, however, he pauses for about 20 seconds, coughs, sips water and stutters. The ad is grossly unfair to a distinguished lawyer serving his country honorably, and also to anyone deceived by it. And deception is the intent.

On his SCOTUS blog, attorney Tom Goldstein’s anger and indignation are evident, appropriate, and vividly stated:

“I’ve been in practice for seventeen years, and the blog has existed for ten, and this is the single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the Court.  It is as if the RNC decided to take an incredibly serious and successful argument that has the chance to produce a pathbreaking legal victory for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, drag it through the mud, and vomit on it.  I would be shocked if a serious conservative lawyer would stand by the ad. The RNC’s supposed point is that the Administration’s own lawyer’s argument demonstrates that it could not defend the individual mandate.  But to then manipulate the audio is seriously misleading to the listener and at best succeeds only in distracting from the point.  How can the Administration’s presentation prove the RNC’s point if it isn’t actually what happened?  If it is just fine to pretend, why not just insert someone with the same voice as Verrilli saying, “Mr. Chief Justice, we believe the individual mandate should be upheld because we hate the Constitution?”


Unethical, disrespectful, unfair, dishonest, and stupid, stupid, stupid.

In addition, the RNC has probably harmed more than its own already tarnished reputation and cause. This is exactly what the Supreme Court justices have feared as they have limited access to Court proceedings despite calls for transparency. As Goldstein notes, “What is to stop the same misleading stunt being pulled with the Justices’ own oral argument questions and comments?  Nothing at all… the Justices now have before them a perfect illustration of the gross distortion that can instantly be made of recordings of their proceedings.  The Court made a special exception in releasing the oral argument tape for the health care arguments so promptly, and it probably will hesitate before doing so again.  If there were any chance that the Justices would permit cameras in the Court, I do not see it happening now.” Timothy R. Johnson, a University of Minnesota political science professor, agrees. “This ad is the justices’ worst nightmare,” he said. “It’s the reason why they don’t want cameras in the court.”

Well done, Republicans! You deceived the public, smeared the Solicitor General, betrayed the Supreme Court, and showed that you will do absolutely anything to win in November, whether it is fair and honest or not. Good to know.

And perhaps most shocking of all, you made Michael Steele seem ethical.

That, I can never forgive.

28 thoughts on “The Curse of Michael Steele: The Republican National Committee’s Shameful, Outrageous Supreme Court Lie

  1. Oooh! A Don Vito Corleone closing statement! Will the other Dons get it?

    Seriously, “sunshine” laws have their place for enabling the public to hold its various government officials accountable.

    But global theater-izing of the deliberations of decision-makers that precede the “reveals” of their decisions to the public stands to create what I can only call, out of my unique combination of ignorance and literacy about electricity, “short circuits:” (ostensibly and typically) unintended, sudden, often hazardous and destructive, levelings-to-zero of “potential” that can involve the transfers and/or releases of significant energy and displays of power, but for no constructive or progressive purposes whatsoever.

    Just don’t ask me what a Volt is.

  2. This type of thing ticks me off. This one is bad. Unfortunately, both the left and right are guilty of being this low.

    • Ready, maybe, but it’s too late for the 2012 national elections. You do realize, don’t you, that any third party surge this year would merely cinch Obama’s re-election AND build his party’s strength in Congress?

        • It’s not just the “really bad” candidates, it’s the “really bad” money, and the control over money in general that the “really good” people don’t have and probably never will have in our lifetimes, that bestows eligibility on the really bad candidates. The bigger the stakes, the bigger the money, thus the bigger the corruption. I don’t see a non-revolutionary way out of the political-economic-cultural hole all U.S. Americans are in.

          I am honestly at the point of deciding whether to emigrate, and go on with the struggling that would entail, or to stick it out and die here in this country, by whatever manner of death may happen to befall me. I’m an older-American, so I do love the sting of battle, as General Patton called it.

  3. I was hoping you would spot this and comment. You’ve had some very legitimate complaints about the left recently, and the other side definitely deserves the same scrutiny.

  4. I am sorry that my earlier comment was perhaps tangential to the central theme of your post, Jack.

    Tim’s pointed question is entirely fair, and Jack, everything you say in your post about the deception by the RNC is spot-on. It almost seems like déjà vu to the 2008 presidential race (to my perceptions): Each of the major parties seems to be daring to LOSE to the other. I still shudder in disbelief today over the fact that in 2008, the two nominees most likely to be elected President both came from the same segment of government (the US Senate) that “enjoyed” single-digit public approval ratings. In 2008, in exasperation and incredulity, I could never stop asking every voter and partisan activist I communicated with, “Those two (Obama and McCain) are the BEST candidates either party, and our political system, can come up with?!” And now in 2012, I look at the likely “choices” for President, and can’t help but ask: WHAT “choice?!”

    Does the fact that the current RNC Chair came from Wisconsin possibly explain in part why the deception was used? I am thinking primarily along the lines of the legend of “Wisconsin Sickness.” Uh-oh: he has a son named Jack! Well, maybe there’s reason to hope for better…

  5. Too bad they used the recordings in such a manner. They really didn’t need to do that. In my opinion, Verrilli’s performance was a disaster. They didn’t need to exaggerate his incompetence. He rambled on and on about how everyone needed health care, but he was unable to offer any persuasive arguments. Even the liberal member of the court had to come to his rescue. At least he has the backing of Obama and I’m sure they’ll end up blaming George Bush for this.

  6. “The Court made a special exception in releasing the oral argument tape for the health care arguments so promptly, and it probably will hesitate before doing so again. If there were any chance that the Justices would permit cameras in the Court, I do not see happening now.”

    SCOTUS Blog

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