In the movie “Dial M for Murder,” the character Mark Halliday explained how he writes about murders: “I usually put myself in the criminal’s shoes and then I keep asking myself, uh, what do I do next?” He admitted, however, that “I’m afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I’d make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.”
That appears to be the fate of MSNBC commentator and the Nation’s Justice Correspondent Elie Mystal, who recently accused Sen. Josh Hawley of trying to kill Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. His weapon: a question about her prior legal positions.
Hawley and others have criticized the record of Judge Jackson as soft on crime, including child pornography. He noted that she recommended eliminating the five-year minimum sentence for child pornography. Hawley was criticized for conflating all sexual offenders with the issue on the sentencing of child pornography defendants. However, Jackson can easily address any such generalization in her own testimony.
Mystal saw not senatorial interest but homicidal intent in such questions. He declared on MSNBC that Hawley is “trying to get [Judge Jackson] killed.”
Hawley’s murderous plot was due to his interest in Jackson’s record on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Without any push back from the host Tiffany Cross, Mystal explained that just discussing Jackson’s positions on sentencing is an effort to have her murdered: “What Josh Hawley is doing. Let’s be very clear. What Josh Hawley is doing when he tries to do this is he’s trying to get her killed. He is trying to get violence done against a Supreme Court nominee.”
Apparently in the spirit of resisting such violence, Mystal added that Jackson’s greatest challenge will be not “punching one of these fools in the mouth.”
Mystal may not be what Jackson is looking for in a public ally. Mystal has a long controversial history, including racially inflammatory comments. In promoting a new book, Mystal has called the U.S. Constitution “trash” and argued that we should ideally just dump it.
Mystal previously stated that white, non-college-educated voters supported Republicans because they care about “using their guns on Black people and getting away with it.” He has also lashed out at “white society” and explained how he strived to maintain a “whiteness free” life in the pandemic.
Once Mystal labels you a racist, it does not matter even if a story is untrue. Mystal, who has written for Above the Law, joined his colleague Joe Patrice in attacking high school student Nicholas Sandmann, the teenager wrongly accused of attacking a Native American. Sandmann received settlements from news organizations over the false story. Nevertheless, Mystal and Patrice continued to attack him for wearing his “racist [MAGA] hat” and said that this “17-year-old kid makes the George Zimmerman defense for why he was allowed to deny access to a person of color.” Putting aside the fact that Sandmann was not “deny[ing] access to a person of color,” Mystal and Patrice were comparing this high school student defending himself from a false story to a man who was accused of murdering an unarmed African American kid.
It does not take much to trigger such attacks. Patrice has written in Above the Law that it is racist to even note that Jackson’s judicial philosophy is not clear from her record. This would seem uncontroversial since Jackson has only one appellate opinion and her trial decisions are not very useful in highlighting her approach to constitutional interpretation. Indeed, Jackson refused to answer questions about her judicial philosophy when she recently was nominated for her appellate position. Nevertheless, Patrice insisted that such questions are little more than calling her a “lesser Black woman.”
That brings us back to Sen. Hawley’s effort, according to Mystal, to murder a Supreme Court nominee.
Mystal explained “We know this because when these people go off, making these claims about child pornography, we know that some of their people show up violently to do stuff,” a reference to the 2017 Pizzagate conspiracy theory and Edgar Maddison Welch. He then made a bizarre conspiracy-like connection, noting that Hawley knows what “Pizzagate is all about” because Jackson was the judge that sentenced Welch.
That type of logic makes “six degrees from Kevin Bacon” look like a DNA test. Yet, it is all fair game on MSNBC to show that raising a nominee’s actual record is a homicidal plot.
Yet, Cross said that it is “quite rich to hear some of the things [Republicans are] suggesting” as opposed to the guest who just made a murder-by-confirmation claim.
Just take a ride on this crazy train. Hawley is trying to get Jackson killed by raising her positions on sentencing because (1) he is alleging that she is soft on crimes like child pornography; (2) Pizzagate involved claims of child sex-trafficking; (3) an unhinged man was convicted for brandishing a gun outside of the pizzeria; and (4) Jackson sentenced the man. Got it?
Under Mystal’s logic, Republicans could object that Democratic senators were trying to murder Amy Coney Barrett when they alleged that she was being put on the Court to help rig the election for Trump. After all, GOP Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and other members of Congress were shot by James Hodgkinson, 66, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders and avid watcher of MSNBC, I-Vt. Hodgkinson was vehemently anti-Trump and “we know that some of their people show up violently to do stuff.”
Likewise, there are other topics that have led to violence. For example, an anti-fascist, anti-Trump activist firebombed an immigration center in Texas. Under Mystal’s logic, asking Judge Jackson about her decisions on immigration could be viewed as inviting such a violent response.
So the solution, according to Mystal, is not to ask a judicial nominee about her legal views. The senators may be interested in the answers for their own deliberations, but the choice is between debate and death in the United States Senate.
Of course, as the detective in “Dial M for Murder” noted, murder is too serious a subject to be left to writers: “They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur.”