Scales

Judicial Watch Continues Partisan Attack Against 2011 Wire Act Revision

Checking in on the American partisan political front, where the right-wing legal activist group Judicial Watch continues trying to seek documents related to the US Department of Justice opinion issued in late 2011 by then-Attorney General Eric Holder which narrowed the official US government interpretation of the Wire Act, limited its application in regards to online gambling to sports betting only.

scales-justiceOn July 15th, Judicial Watch filed a federal civil complaint against the US Department of Justice, hoping to use the court system to compel the DOJ to comply with a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request filed by the partisan group, attempting to uncover documents related to AG Holder’s determination regarding the 1961 Wire Act’s reach.  The clarification was necessary to allow state-operated lotteries the opportunity to sell their products online, a move which several states had sought and which had been fought by far-right, anti-gambling activists, such as those affiliated with Judicial Watch.

The group bills itself as “a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation [that] promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law,” and it is highly partisan, attacking only prominent Democratic officials and offices deemed to be in Democratic control.  Former AG Holder, a political appointee of current US president Barack Obama, thus falls within the scope of any present or former public official whom Judicial Watch will target.

The group’s website proudly proclaims, “America is in the midst of an unprecedented assault on its open records laws by the corrupt and secretive Obama administration and corrupt politicians like Hillary Clinton…,” and web page after web page is filled with references and documents related to right-wing-driven scandals, fueled to uncover dirt — real or imaginary — against targeted officials.

Regarding the Holder DOJ Wire Act reinterpretation from late 2011, the Judicial Watch group asserts that it filed its FOIA request in October of 2014.  The group subsequently received official acknowledgment of its request in January, a step which then created an official compliance deadline in February.  However, the current Judicial Watch request asserts that no documentation has subsequently been received.

It is true that federal government and agencies have a decades-long track record of ignoring otherwise-legal FOIA requests, often because the majority of them are deemed frivolous.  Whether that applies to the Holder Wire Act reinterpretation from 2011 remains unknown, though on its face it appears unlikely that even the uncovering of e-mail correspondence or similar linking Holder and the US DOJ to requests from interested states to re-examine the reach of the 1961 Wire Act would affect the matter in any real way.  As the then-presiding Attorney General, Holder was always free to issue such an opinion, which despite his official position was an opinion only, and has not been tested officially in an American court of law.

Freedom of Information Act requests also include the proviso that the requesting party also pay reasonable fees related to the copying and forwarding of documents related to the FOIA request.  In addition, the recent civil complaint also includes the request that the court hold the DOJ liable for all attorneys’ fees incurred by Judicial Watch in the process of forcing the DOJ to comply with the October 2014 request.

Whether or not the Judicial Watch group is acting in concert with the Sheldon Adelson-orchestrated Coalition to Stop Internet (CSIG) group also remains unknown.  One striking note from the Judicial Watch group’s filing is how very late it is in relation to the DOJ opinion it seeks information regarding.  The lapse from Holder’s 2011 opinion to the Judicial Watch FOIA request is a full 35 months, and Holder himself is no longer even the US’s sitting Attorney General.

It appears unlikely that the group’s efforts are anything more than an attempt to stir up mud around the issue of online gambling, the banning of which has been a conservative Republican political plank in every general election since 2004.  That is highly unlikely to change in the 2016 election cycle, since the GOP’s primary agenda has in recent decades been driven by its far-right extreme, whether or not its final major candidates have always been cut from the same cloth.

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