How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Mark Totten for Michigan Attorney General|
|What:||YouTube video, “Bill Schuette, Michigan’s far right attorney general”|
The video, posted by Mark Totten, a Michigan State University law professor and Democratic candidate for attorney general, opens with photos of conservative Republican U.S. senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, calling them “radicals on a national stage” and asking, “If you had the chance to stop the next rising star of the right wing, would you do it, or would you let it slip away?”
The video cites Schuette’s support for a Michigan law barring same-sex couples from adopting children, his support for lawsuits to deny women insurance coverage for contraceptives, his opposition to tax credits for low-income families under the Affordable Care Act and his spearheading a law that made it more difficult to sue pharmaceutical companies when their products harm people as proof that he is a radical right winger who must be stopped.
“He went to court to stop foster kids from being adopted by gay parents because he believed they’d be better off as orphans.”
Schuette vigorously opposed a federal lawsuit by couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse challenging Michigan’s 2004 Marriage Amendment, which defined marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” Because Michigan law allows only married couples or single people to adopt, DeBoer and Rowse contend that Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban prevented them from adopting the three special needs children they had been raising together and thus violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Schuette argued that the purpose of the Michigan Marriage Amendment was “to promote procreation in a manner to encourage stable families.” To support his case, his staff called expert witnesses who claimed children raised by heterosexual couples fare better than those raised by same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman rejected that assertion as “a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.” Friedman declared the Michigan Marriage Amendment unconstitutional, a ruling that has been put on hold pending Schuette’s appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
DeBoer and Rowse said they decided to challenge Michigan’s law after narrowly avoiding an auto accident and realizing that if one of them had been killed, the other could not legally claim parental rights over all three children. Initially, they filed a legal challenge to the state’s adoption law, but, at Friedman’s urging, amended it to directly take on the Michigan Marriage Amendment.
There is no record that Schuette ever said he believed that children would be “better off as orphans,” rather than being raised by a same-sex couple. But in court papers, Schuette favorably cited a Florida case which suggested it was better for children to remain in foster care rather than be placed in a family that was not “optimal,” i.e., heterosexual. John Keig, Totten’s campaign manager, also argues that in fighting the same-sex lawsuit and calling his expert witnesses, Schuette was sending the message that “these kids would be better off as orphans.” The language is jarring, but defensible.
“Schuette was the first attorney general in the nation to join a far right-wing effort to deny women coverage for contraceptives.”
Schuette is an outspoken opponent of the Affordable Care Act, including a section requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. He filed a friend of the court brief supporting a lawsuit by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty challenging that section as it applied to religious organizations. Schuette called the provision “a radical attack on the First Amendment that cannot stand,” adding that “we cannot compromise religious liberty.”
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said Schuette was the first state attorney general in the nation to support the case, and Schuette’s spokeswoman said he would encourage other attorneys general to file similar friend of the court briefs.
Truth Squad will leave it to pundits to debate whether the Becket Fund, created to protect “religious liberty” from governmental intrusion, is right wing or “far right wing,” as the ad declares. Where the ad arguably goes too far is in making a blanket statement that Schuette wants to deny women coverage for contraceptives. His arguments to date have focused on supporting organizations or companies that have a bona fide religious objection to playing a role in providing coverage for some or all contraceptives. The record does not appear to support the assertion that Schuette is opposed to requiring other businesses (i.e., those with no religious objection) from providing such coverage.
“It’s his law that makes Michigan the only state in the nation where you can’t take drug companies to court if you’re harmed by one of their drugs.”
As a state senator in 1995, Schuette sponsored a bill that became a law protecting pharmaceutical companies from product liability lawsuits if the drug in question had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He chaired the Senate Committee on Economic Development, International Trade and Regulatory Affairs, to which the bill was referred, and he spoke at length urging his colleagues to pass it. He also served on a House and Senate a conference committee that worked out a final version of the law. Though a federal appeals court recently carved out a narrow exception, Michigan’s drug immunity law remains intact.
“And he’s been called a ‘destructive radical’ for his fight to cut tax credits that save some Michigan families up to $5,000 a year in health care costs.”
In February, Schuette filed a brief in support of a lawsuit challenging tax credits to help low-income people afford health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the subsidies could only be provided in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges. That same day, another appeals court in Virginia reached the opposite conclusion, leaving the issue unresolved, possibly until the U.S. Supreme Court settles it.
The uncertainty, meanwhile, leaves the status of tax credits for thousands of Michigan residents unresolved, because Michigan is one of 36 states that did not create their own health insurance exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the average tax subsidy in 2014 for each person who bought health insurance under the Affordable Care Act would be $4,700.
Thus, Totten’s claim that the lawsuit supported by Schuette could cost “some Michigan families up to $5,000 a year in health care costs” is close to the mark. Jim Anderson, news editor for the Iron Mountain Daily News, called Schuette “a destructive radical” in a blog on the newspaper’s Web site for supporting the lawsuit.
The ad, for the most part, sticks to the record on Schuette’s legislative and legal record, with some political name-calling thrown in. It gets a warning for its assertions on contraceptives, which could be interpreted as painting too broad a brush.