Monday, October 08, 2018

FactCheck: Sens. Collins and Heitkamp distort facts

Here's another installment of a series we will run weekly until Election Day, in which we list some of the most relevant items from and other nonpartisan fact checkers. We encourage you to subscribe to their alerts, which you can do here, and republish their findings, which FactCheck lets anyone do for free with credit to them.

Sen. Susan Collins
In a speech announcing her decision to vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland "voted the same way in 93 percent of cases they heard together" on the District of Columbia federal appeals court. In comparing Kavanaugh's votes with Garland, whom President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court, Collins attempted to show that Kavanaugh was "more of a centrist" than critics say.

But her statement is misleading: "A high rate of unanimity is not unusual among appellate court judges or indicative of how one might rule if elevated to the Supreme Court, as the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote in a recent report on Kavanaugh and his potential impact on the high court," Eugene Kiely reports for FactCheck.

FactCheck notes that such statistics are "frequently misused" and that it dealt with a similar claim in 2017, when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the court. The nonpartisan CRS explained then and now that there is a high rate of unanimity on appeals courts because appellate judges are "bound by Supreme Court and circuit precedent," and "not normally in a position to espouse freely their views on particular legal issues in the context of their judicial opinions." Also, the reports said, though the Supreme Court has almost complete discretion over the cases it hears, federal appeals courts are required to hear many cases, including routine cases in which judges are likely to agree.

The CRS notes that, although Kavanaugh has agreed with Garland in most cases, "Kavanaugh had the highest rate of issuing separate opinions, either concurring or dissenting, (15.53 percent) and the highest rate of issuing dissenting opinions (8.58 percent) than any of the six judges on the D.C. Circuit Court from May 31, 2006, to July 9, 2018. Garland was at the bottom of that list with a separate opinion rate of 1.8 percent and a dissenting opinion rate of less than 1 percent."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., claims in a new campaign ad that her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, gave himself a $23,000 raise as an official on the Public Service Commission, raising his salary to over $93,650. But Politifact rated that claim False: "Cramer did get raises totalling that amount. But the ad completely distorts Cramer’s hand in securing the pay increase," Manuela Tobias reports

The three commissioners are elected to six-year terms. Cramer was ne in 2003-12. Their salaries are determined by the governor and the state Office of Management and Budget, then approved by the legislature. Tobias reports, "The OMB proposed and received across-the-board salary hikes for elected officials every year between 2005 and 2012. . . .Staff at the Public Service Commission and at the OMB said they could not recall an instance in which they had requested salary bumps for commissioners."

Politifact has marshaled a group of state-by-state correspondents to feed it ads and statements that deserve checking, and is open to contributions from others, in case you see an ad that is difficult for you to check out.

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