Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Anchor Rising: "Do They Even Read What They Write?"

"Anchor Rising" contributor Patrick Laverty gives us yet another anecdote illustrative of PolitiFact's bias, thanks to PolitiFact Rhode Island:
This one was just too easy. First Politifact accuses Terry Gorman of RIILE of issuing a "Mostly False" statement, and then they actually explain how their own ruling is wrong!
RIILE is Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, and the issue is the decision by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education to provide in-state tuition rates to at least some illegal immigrants.

Laverty makes a condensed but essentially accurate case in finding PolitiFact "pants on fire" for its ruling on Gorman.  The federal law, Laverty points out, allows a state legislature to provide secondary education benefits so long as the method complies with the rest of the federal statute.  But the federal law does not make that same exception for the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education.

PolitiFact makes an effort to legitimize the Rhode Island policy by playing up a key court decision in California:
In their decision, the California judges concluded that the basis upon which California granted the in-state tuition exemption -- which includes having attended a California high school for at least three years and obtaining a high school diploma or GED from California -- constituted criteria other than residency. Therefore, the judges wrote, "it does not violate section 1623."

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on appeal.

The California court did not, however, rule on whether granting in-state tuition for undocumented students amounted to a "benefit" as defined in the federal law. That remains an open question.
There are two things of note in this portion of PolitiFact's analysis.

The first is the journalist offering a piece of legal analysis without directly sourcing it to an expert.  Journalists reporting in the objective style rarely set themselves forward as a definitive source of information.

Second, does it remain an open question?

On the face of it, the question doesn't seem so open.  The court's decision was the result of an appeal, and the lower court had ruled against the California law, finding it unconstitutional.  That court, it seems safe to say, operated on the premise that granting in-state tuition for undocumented students was a benefit under the applicable federal law.

It seems counterintuitive for the higher court to leave that issue unaddressed if it objected to that facet of the lower court's ruling.

One wonders why PolitiFact presented it as an open question, though it's clear enough in the context of the story that it serves as one of the keys to the unfavorable ruling Gorman received.

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