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Trump's Border-Wall Blink

The president blinked.

Donald Trump wants his border wall funded, but he apparently wants to keep the government open on his 100th day in office a little bit more. Facing the prospect of a government shutdown in four days, the president reportedly backed off his demand that a must-pass spending bill include a downpayment for the wall he wants to construct along the nation’s southern border. Trump told a group of conservative journalists on Monday evening that he would be willing to accept money for the wall during the next government-funding debate in September, effectively defusing a clash that had been building between Capitol Hill and the White House ahead of the April 28 deadline to avert a partial shutdown.

The president’s softening line wasn’t all that surprising. Democrats had held firm against funding the wall from the start, and Republican leaders were in no mood for a countdown-clock showdown so early in Trump’s tenure and after they had already muffed their attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. A battle over the wall, they reasoned, could come later. Not even the president seemed to have his heart fully in the fight—neither he nor his top advisers would take the necessary step of actually threatening to veto a spending bill that did not include some of the $1.4 billion the administration had requested to begin development of the wall.

Trump’s bigger worry may be of a pattern beginning to emerge. In March, the president sent his staff to deliver a well-publicized ultimatum to House Republicans: Pass the leadership’s health-care bill, or Trump would leave Obamacare in place and move on to other issues. The lawmakers balked, and a month later, it became clear the president was bluffing. He’s now back on health care and insisting he never left.

Democrats were quick to accept the president’s willingness to back off from the shutdown brink. “The president’s comments this evening are welcome news given the bipartisan opposition to the wall, and the obstacle it has been to the continuing bipartisan negotiations in the appropriations committees,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. Her Senate counterpart, Chuck Schumer, added: “It's good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations. Now the bipartisan and bicameral negotiators can continue working on the outstanding issues.”

The two parties must still agree on how much additional money to appropriate for defense, how much they might give the president for border security that doesn’t include building the wall, and whether Congress will tell the Trump administration to continue making subsidy payments to health insurers as part of Obamacare. But the wall had become the chief sticking point, and lawmakers were confident of avoiding a shutdown if Trump did not insist on its funding.

Perhaps Democrats thought if they praised the president fast enough, he wouldn’t have time to reverse himself. Indeed, by the morning, Trump was tweeting again about the wall.

Nobody believes the president has given up entirely on building the wall; the issue is whether Congress will start funding it now. Trump’s tweet was not a veto threat. There’s still time for Trump to change his mind again and confront the Democrats. Assuming he doesn’t, however, his tactical retreat might benefit him in the short run. A government shutdown would have been an ignominious, if perhaps fitting, coda to Trump’s first 100 days in office. But for a man who boasts about his negotiating skills and likes to keep his opponents guessing, a second called bluff in a month suggests the new president might, to his great dismay, be a tad too predictable.

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Media Matters for America / Media Matters | April 25, 2017, 2:26 pm

Protest Song Of The Week: ‘My Land’ By Litefoot

  • The movement at Standing Rock around the Dakota Access Pipeline project inspired a number of Americans to confront their relationship to the land.
  • In 1996, Litefoot, one of the first Native American rappers, recorded a rap song that provided an unflinching look at American history from an indigenous perspective.
  • “Forget a treaty, I still call them all crooks,” Litefoot raps in the first verse.
  • “And now they talking this ‘My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.’ And my people they went through misery.
Kevin Gosztola / Shadowproof | April 25, 2017, 2:21 pm

Paging Justice Breyer

  • Arguments in a technical case at the Supreme Court really resonated Tuesday when Justice Stephen Breyer’s cell phone went off.
  • “He doesn’t usually bring his phone and he forgot,” said Kathy Arberg.
  • The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes was in court and tweeted that Breyer appeared “red-faced” as the justice struggled to silence the offending device.
  • The pinging sound — the justice apparently has decided against a more distinctive ringtone — occurred near the beginning of Bristol-Myers Squibb v.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | April 25, 2017, 2:11 pm

Around The Empire – Episode 16: The Blacklisting Of Independent Media Feat. Kyle Kulinski

  • On this episode of Around The Empire, Dan and Joanne interview progressive journalist and activist Kyle Kulinski (Secular Talk) about media concentration and the seemingly coordinated strategy to weaken, undermine, and destroy independent media.
  • The discussion focuses on “ProporNot” blacklist and other “fake news” claims that establishment media has used to call for a crackdown on platforms such as Facebook, which has now agreed to begin blacklisting unapproved content.
  • A similar crackdown has occurred against independent media on YouTube known as the “Adpocalypse,” which has demonetized numerous independent media content under the guise of preventing advertisers from being in front of “extremist content.” The crippling demonetization of Kyle and others’ news and politics shows comes as YouTube begins to launch YouTube TV with establishment media companies.
  • The blacklisting and demonetization are occurring on both platforms as independent media is increasingly taking market share and relevance from legacy outlets.
Dan Wright / Shadowproof | April 25, 2017, 12:18 pm

White House Touts 100 Days Of Trump—'more' Meaningless Accomplishments Than Any Other President

  • All of these "ACCOMPLISHMENTS" involve Trump doing "more" than any other president, because in the underdeveloped frontal lobe of a man with freakishly stubby opposable thumbs, size matters.
  • Here's where Trump really shines because President Obama only signed 19 executive orders!
  • “Those orders don’t mean anything right now, necessarily, but it really depends in many cases on what the agencies come back with and whether the administration goes forward with and actually implements the recommendations,” she added.
  • None of that legislation is considered “major” by academics who actually study presidencies. Again, a little context from presidential historian Robert Dallek: (Kerry Eleveld) / Daily Kos | April 25, 2017, 12:17 pm

Breitbart Can’t Convince A Committee To Let It Cover Congress

Breitbart News’ application for permanent congressional press passes was denied on Tuesday, after a months-long attempt by the right-wing news outlet to obtain credentials.

The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery voted to table Breitbart’s application and also to not extend its temporary passes, which are valid through May 31.

The committee has so far declined to issue permanent press credentials to the outlet based on a number of concerns, including its independence from figures in the Trump administration and from the Mercer family of Republican donors and related groups.

In the course of its quest to get credentials, Breitbart, normally a secretive organization, has been forced to disclose information about its operations, structure, and finances. But the committee has not been satisfied by Breitbart’s responses.

For now, the site is vowing to fight on.

"Breitbart News is unequivocally entitled to permanent Senate Press Gallery credentials and is determined to secure them,” Breitbart spokesman Chad Wilkinson said in a statement on Tuesday.

The last time the committee met to consider Breitbart’s application, the outstanding issues included concerns about Breitbart’s office space—until recently, a Capitol Hill rowhouse owned by an Egyptian politician which is not zoned for office use—its connections to the Mercer family, which has invested in the news site, and its relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who led the outlet as executive chairman before going to work for President Trump.

Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov sent two letters to the committee which were considered on Tuesday morning. In one, dated April 18, Solov promises that Rebekah Mercer “has no editorial control at Breitbart News Network” and that Breitbart and the Government Accountability Institute, another Mercer-connected group that has or has had ties to some Breitbart staffers, “are separate and independent companies, with separate and different boards and management. They have no editorial control over each other.”

In the other letter, dated April 24, Solov asserts that “none of the individual applicants for membership pursuant to a BNN Senate Press Gallery credential do work, or while credentialed will be working, for GAI, Liberty First Institute and/or the US border patrol unions.”

“Without limitation, is it the Standing Committee’s position that a news organization cannot be credentialed if it employs any editor and/or reporter who is also employed by or affiliated with any advocacy group or non-profit?” Solov wrote. “Of course, we respectfully assert that any such rules, standards and/or criteria must be reasonable and realistic, and transparent – and applied equally and fairly to all news organizations.”

Neither of Solov’s letters address the office issue. Breitbart is reportedly seeking office space in downtown Washington.

The committee’s decision to table Breitbart’s application and not extend its temporary pass means that, barring any change, Breitbart will lose its credentials to access Capitol Hill after May 31. Not having permanent congressional press credentials also affects Breitbart’s ability to cover the Supreme Court, join the White House Correspondents Association, or participate in pool coverage.

The decision is a blow to Breitbart’s attempts to be taken seriously as a news outlet. The site was one of the most vociferous pro-Trump voices in the conservative media sphere during the election, and it has achieved greater prominence since Trump’s election and ascension to the presidency. It has made moves to become more accepted by the political establishment, hiring reporters from mainstream outlets like The Hill and The Wall Street Journal.

But the site’s deep ties to Trump—Bannon aside, two former Breitbart writers have gone to work in the White House—have raised questions about its independence. A group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to Bannon last week asking him to explain how much communication he has with Breitbart, noting that he is under ethics obligations not to be involved with the site.

Both Bannon and Breitbart have said that he no longer has any association with the organization. But it’s still the case that Breitbart’s image is inextricably tied to his;

“The people running things at Breitbart believe they are the reason Breitbart became more popular,” former Breitbart writer Lee Stranahan told me last week. “Steve Bannon being part of the administration is why Breitbart became so popular.”

Congressional Credentialing Committee Deals Breitbart A Devastating Rebuke

  • The credentialing committee for congressional reporters has denied’s bid for permanent press credentials and declined to extend its temporary passes, a dramatic rebuke for the website, which has sought in recent months to burnish its reputation as an independent, legitimate news source.
  • Since late last year, Breitbart has been seeking permanent credentials from the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, which would have allowed it to join the White House Correspondents’ Association and participate in the White House press pool.
  • But Breitbart has been stymied by the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that news outlets be editorially independent of other organizations; the committee turned down their bid last month, seeking more information.
  • Breitbart is inextricably linked to its former executive chairman, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon; the major right-wing donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who are part owners of the website; and the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit funded by the Mercers and previously run by Bannon, which employed several top Breitbart staffers.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | April 25, 2017, 11:25 am

Democrats Are More Out Of Step Than Republicans, Poll Says

  • While Republicans worry about their own political fortunes in the context of Donald Trump’s continued unpopularity, CNN’s Chris Cillizza points to poll numbers indicating that Democrats have issues of their own to worry about: 
  • One number in the Post-ABC poll really stood out to me as something that should worry Democrats pondering the party’s future: Asked whether the Democratic Party is in touch with the concerns of the average person, just 28% of respondents said it is — as opposed to 67% who said Democrats are out of touch.
  • More amazing to me is that only 52% of self-identified Democrats said their party was in touch with peoples’ concerns, while 44% said it was out of touch.
  • As evidence of the organic groundswell behind this idea, Democrats touted the successes of things like Sen.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | April 25, 2017, 11:08 am

Collapse: Against 'fierce Democratic Opposition' Trump Surrenders On Funding For His Wall

  • This is a cartoon flashback that I thought bore repeating as we learn about the Trump tax plan.
  • “It's good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations.
  • In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.
  • In the health care debate, the president was going to force a House vote on the package and dare skeptical Republicans to vote against replacing Obamacare, before abandoning that plan in the face of defeat. (Mark Sumner) / Daily Kos | April 25, 2017, 9:14 am

How The Political Press Favors The Rich And Famous

Whether one likes or dislikes Chelsea Clinton is beside the point.

Imagine paging through an official handbook at The New York Times or NPR or Columbia University’s journalism school and encountering an entry with these guidelines:

Prospective political candidates: A subject may sometimes warrant coverage as a possible or likely political candidate before he or she officially declares an intention to seek office or files paperwork to formally initiate a run. Such coverage should be reserved for the unusually rich, the widely famous, or the close relative of a person widely known to have held elective office.  

There is not a reputable news organization in America that would formalize that guideline. Yet it might as well be the official standard in the political press, where all manner of coverage flows to nascent careers because the subject is a billionaire, like Ross Perot, or famous, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or kin to a Kennedy or Bush.

The typical journalist is likelier to be a Democrat than a Republican, a liberal than a conservative. But his or her approach to doling out attention to folks who could run for office is best summed up by the Andrews Sisters: “Them that has, gets. Them that don’t, wants.”

The prospective candidate who is unusually honest, or decent, or shows skill governing at the local level, is almost never the object of glowing profiles that serve to introduce them to a broader public, or “will they run for higher office” speculation.

That isn’t because journalists are averse to those qualities, or driven entirely by ratings or clicks. Rather, it is an unintended and unfortunate byproduct of an approach that Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere,” an approach intended to guard against bias.

Adherents focus purely on what is in politics rather than what ought to be.

The approach is seductive. It offers the illusion that coverage decisions are free of ideology. A reporter who focuses on what is, rather than what ought to be, is not responsible for the fact that folks with money, or fame, or connections wield power, and are therefore advantageously positioned to win elections. In 2000, George W. Bush really was much more likely to win the Republican nomination, by virtue of his political lineage and fundraising connections, than any number of would be candidates. Donald Trump really was better positioned than Evan McMullin.

At the same time, political journalists err if they think it is possible to observe and report on what is without affecting it. George W. Bush was better positioned in large part because the political press acted as a multiplier for his advantages in name recognition and fundraising, treating them as causes for lots of coverage, even though the vast majority of Americans, across ideologies, would agree that it ought to be that neither fortune nor fame nor family ties determine a candidate’s electoral prospects.

It ought to be that a person with compelling experience, or exemplary character traits, or leadership skills get at least a fair shot at persuading the public to support them. Instead, the view from nowhere entrenches the status quo, even if it is pernicious or nonsensical. Love or hate her, Chelsea Clinton would not even be mentioned as a prospective candidate for public office if her parents were in any other profession. Why are journalists allowing themselves to fuel dynastic trends in American life?

The political press should recalibrate.

Sure, revealed preference confirms a public desire to read about the already famous. And the outlet that spends time and resources covering them can always plausibly argue that they are not shaping the interests of the public, but reflecting them without judgment. The people might want Chelsea or Ivanka. They wanted George W. Bush and John Quincy Adams! Yet the people could not have rejected Jeb! more decisively.

How do the outlets that covered him so thoroughly justify their approach to themselves? Who might have vied successfully for the presidency with half as much free press?

Journalists needn’t embrace the moral logic of Robin Hood to conclude that the best way to inform the public, or advance representative government in the United Staes, is not to supercharge the advantages that rich or famous candidates already enjoy. Indeed, one needn’t even be an egalitarian to see a strong argument for the political press to act as a counterweight to rich and famous candidates, on the logic that to inform the public is to tell them about candidates they might want to know about but don’t, rather than telling them ever more about people with whom they are already familiar, or will obviously have ample opportunity to get to know regardless.

Long before an election, when the primary field for a gubernatorial or presidential race is not settled, why shouldn’t the press alert the public to potential candidates they would never know about if not for enterprising journalism, instead of lavishing coverage on legacies like Chelsea Clinton, George P. Bush, and inevitably, Ivanka Trump?

Cover the rich, famous, and well-connected if and when they file to seek elective office. But until then, I’d rather read about anyone else who might excel at governing.

Rupert Murdoch’s Disturbing Corporate Legacy: Chronic Sexual Harassment In US, Rampant Lawbreaking In UK

  • Bill O’Reilly may be gone at Fox News, but Rupert Murdoch’s festering Fox News mess isn’t going away anytime soon.
  • Murdoch cut ties with the host last week after multiple women's reports of sexual harassment became public.
  • Then on Monday, former Fox host Andrea Tantaros filed a new lawsuit against the company in federal court, which alleges, “A person working for Fox News was responsible for hacking Ms.
  • Murdoch, his sons James and Lachlan, and 21st Century Fox -- which they control and which owns Fox News -- are still facing numerous corporate challenges, which might still be raging on July 6.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | April 25, 2017, 8:23 am

France: Electoral Rules Matter

  • While the final numbers are not in, it would appear that Emmanuel Macron will win the plurality of the vote in the first round of of France’s presidential elections and Marianne Le Pen will come in second.
  • At the end of the day, at least, the French electorate will pick a president who has to win an absolute majority of the vote.
Steven L. Taylor / Outside The Beltway | April 25, 2017, 8:06 am

A Note On Holocaust Remembrance Day: Anti-Semitic Incidents Rose 86% In First Three Months Of 2017

  • Harassment, vandalism and other hostile acts against Jewish people and sites in the U.S.
  • Greenblatt added that his organization’s report, which was released on Holocaust Remembrance Day, shows that public officials must do more to denounce anti-Semitism and find ways to make Jewish-Americans feel secure.
  • … the ADL has tracked a resurgence of neo-Nazi and other hate groups in recent years and noticed that extremists felt emboldened during the presidential election. (Barbara Morrill) / Daily Kos | April 25, 2017, 6:13 am

When The Courts Take Police Officers At Their Word

On a mild Friday evening in late October 2010, Ricardo Salazar-Limon was in his white Toyota pickup truck, driving west along Houston, Texas’s Southwest Freeway. After a long day painting and hanging sheetrock at NASA’s Johnson Space Center he stopped off at the modest gray rancher he shared with his young family and his friend Rogelio. The two men commiserated over a couple beers before setting out for the home of an acquaintance across town. On the way, they picked up a 12-pack of Bud Light and two of Rogelio’s friends. Salazar-Limon, who was 25 at the time, would recall it as “a common day, like any other.”

That is, until a siren and red-and-blue lights erupted behind Salazar-Limon’s truck just after midnight. He knew he had been speeding, and he eased onto the shoulder, pulling up alongside the scuffed Jersey barrier that marked the edge of a freeway overpass. Chris Thompson, a patrol officer with the Houston Police Department, parked his police cruiser behind the truck.

All parties agree that what began as a routine traffic stop ended with a bullet fired from Thompson’s service revolver lodged in Salazar-Limon’s spine, leaving him wheelchair-bound. But what happened in between—and how two federal courts later handled the Rashomon-like duel of contested narratives that emerged from it—is a stark example of a problem that has come to vex plaintiffs who bring civil-rights lawsuits against police. With the Supreme Court on Monday declining to hear Salazar-Limon’s case—over a two-justice dissent—the judges of those two courts will have the last word.  

At issue was the courts’ decision to deny Salazar-Limon a jury trial. Ordinarily, through a procedure called summary judgment, a judge can dismiss a case before it reaches a jury only if the judge finds the evidence in the case leaves no question of fact or credibility for a jury to resolve. The courts ignored those rules in Salazar-Limon’s case, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in their dissent: Despite Salazar-Limon and Thompson offering accounts that “flatly contradict each other,” both lower courts took the officer at his word, leaving nothing for a jury to decide. Yet whose story is more credible—a quintessential jury question—is what the case is all about, a point the dissenters highlighted: If Thompson’s story is true, his decision to pull the trigger was justified; if Salazar-Limon’s is true, a jury could find it wasn’t.

The case, as the dissenting justices recognized, is not a one-off. Recent years have seen growing concern in the legal community that judges in police civil-rights lawsuits are usurping the jury’s role. By twisting the ordinary procedure of summary judgment, critics contend, these judges prematurely shut down lawsuits by, in effect, crediting the officer over the plaintiff. This practice, legal scholars say, is part of a broader trend within the judiciary toward erecting barriers to bringing civil excessive-force cases against police officers.

At stake is not just the chance of a plaintiff, like Salazar-Limon, to prove to a jury of his peers that he’s telling the truth about how the police treated him. What’s at stake—at a moment when faith in government to take seriously allegations of police misconduct is at a low point in many communities—is the perceived legitimacy of federal courts as fair and unbiased institutions among a significant cross section of Americans.

* * *

As Salazar-Limon remembers it, his encounter with Thompson began innocuously enough: license and registration, mild puzzlement over his Mexican identification card (Salazar-Limon moved to Texas from central Mexico when he was 16), Thompson’s walk back to his patrol car to run Salazar-Limon’s information. The standard tenor of the stop didn’t last. A few minutes later, Thompson reemerged into the sodium light of the freeway, stopped in the gap between his car and the truck, and called for Salazar-Limon to join him.

As the two men stood between the still-running vehicles, Thompson told Salazar-Limon he was taking him to jail. In answer to Salazar-Limon’s “Why?” Thompson replied curtly: “Don’t ask.” Thompson moved to handcuff Salazar-Limon, but the man snatched his hand away and turned around. As cars sped by on the freeway, Salazar-Limon began to walk away from Thompson, through the narrow space between the Jersey barrier and his truck. “I became frightened,” he later explained.

Salazar-Limon didn’t get more than a few steps before he heard Thompson shout for him to stop. He didn’t, and instead took another step or two. Then, as he later recounted, “I hear: Boom. I began to feel hot in my back, wet. And so I turn around, and I see him. And then I fall.” Salazar-Limon collapsed near the front of his truck. He tried to reach for the bumper to pull himself to his feet, but he could no longer move his legs. “I was kind of like suffocating,” Salazar-Limon recalled during a deposition. “I was, like, leaving. I was dying.” In a photograph taken later that night, a blood smear, illuminated by the headlights of his truck, stains the gray asphalt beside the barrier.

* * *

Thompson remembers that night differently. When Salazar-Limon rolled down his window, Thompson smelled alcohol. (Salazar-Limon later said he’d had between three and five beers in the previous four hours.) After Thompson ran Salazar-Limon’s information, he had the man step out of his truck and walk with him to the gap between the truck and the patrol car. Thompson told Salazar-Limon in a calm voice that he needed to detain him while he conducted a sobriety test. He asked Salazar-Limon to turn around and put his hands behind his back.

He complied. But as Thompson reached for an arm to handcuff him, Salazar-Limon spun around and pushed Thompson toward the freeway. The two wound up in what the officer described as “a wrestler’s lock,” with Salazar-Limon shoving Thompson—the larger of the two by about six inches and 45 pounds—in the direction of the Jersey barrier at the edge of the elevated freeway. (Thompson acknowledged in his deposition that he emerged without a scrape or a bruise.)

In time, Salazar-Limon broke free and began to walk away from Thompson, between the barrier and his truck. The patrolman, alarmed by the scuffle, drew his gun and pointed it at Salazar-Limon. As Thompson kept him in his sights, his eye was drawn not to the driver’s blue slacks or his dress shoes—a doctor a few hours later would label him “well groomed”—but to the untucked button-down shirt that hung over his waistband. Thompson’s thoughts raced: “This guy tried to push me in traffic. He tried to push me over the bridge. I need my gun. I haven’t searched him. He has a long shirt. He’s pushing away for a reason.” He called twice after Salazar-Limon, who was shouting in Spanish, to stop and show his hands.

When Salazar-Limon neared the cab of the truck, he turned over his left shoulder, made eye contact with Thompson, and appeared to reach a hand in front of him toward his waistband. “The brain said, ‘This guy is reaching for a weapon,’” Thompson later recalled. “Pull the trigger.” Then he did.

* * *

In 2011, Salazar-Limon sued Thompson, alleging the officer had violated his constitutional rights. To many—including Sotomayor and Ginsburg—Salazar-Limon’s is a classic example of a case for a jury to decide. As even Justice Samuel Alito conceded in an opinion supporting the Court’s decision, only the two men know what happened between them that night. The passengers in Salazar-Limon’s truck provided no clarity: According to Sean Palavan, an attorney for Salazar-Limon, they said they didn’t see what happened just before Thompson fired.

But that’s not the way it looked to the federal judges who heard the case—a district-court judge in Houston and three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In the view of those judges, no reasonable juror could disbelieve Thompson’s account—that Salazar-Limon turned and reached for his waistband—because Salazar-Limon, who was unarmed, didn’t explicitly deny having done so. On that basis, they granted Thompson summary judgment and refused to let the case go before a jury.

That, Sotomayor wrote on Monday, inverted the summary-judgment formula, amounting to a “fundamental error.” She referenced an earlier, similar case in Texas—also out of the Fifth Circuit—that the Court had decided to act on. In what was widely viewed as an unusual procedural move, in 2014 the Supreme Court summarily reversed two Fifth Circuit opinions because the judges had credited officers’ accounts in police excessive-force cases, and not plaintiffs’. Echoing the justices’ language in that older case, Sotomayor called the lower courts’ actions in Salazar-Limon “a clear misapprehension of summary-judgment standards.”

The practice is not confined to the conservative states of the Fifth Circuit. Also in 2014, Alex Kozinski—at the time, the chief judge of the federal appeals court in California—penned an opinion that rebuked judges who are too quick to respond credulously to officer testimony. Kozinski wrote: If the suspect “didn’t have a gun on him,” a jury might ask—even in the absence of contradictory testimony—“why would he have reached for his waistband?” (Sotomayor in her dissent took note of “the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.”)

In Salazar-Limon’s case, there was a good reason why he didn’t mention his waistband: His deposition took place about two weeks before Thompson’s, where the officer first claimed Salazar-Limon had turned and reached for it. “The plaintiff in his deposition is not asked and does not say, ‘I was not reaching into my waistband,’” said Joanna Schwartz, a University of California, Los Angeles, law professor who has written extensively about police-misconduct litigation. “But everything he says is inconsistent with what the officer is saying.” Lawyers for Thompson, who declined to comment, never asked Salazar-Limon to corroborate or dispute the patrolman’s story.

* * *

The core critique leveled by Sotomayor and Ginsburg at their colleagues Monday was that—as Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman has observed—the Supreme Court has in recent years regularly chastised lower courts for being too willing to let lawsuits against police advance to a jury. Yet it’s less eager to jump in when a judge has perhaps improperly denied access to a jury in a lawsuit against police. The high court’s solicitous approach to police led Sotomayor to accuse her colleagues in 2015 of “sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing.” (In their concurring opinion Monday, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas didn’t offer much of a defense of the lower courts’ decisions, and instead leaned on procedural rules to justify their punt.)

But signals from the high court may not be the only thing that has led judges to keep cases like Salazar-Limon’s from juries. Another factor, a Harvard Law Review study on the subject suggests, is what social psychologists call “naïve realism”—the ability to detect value-motivated interpretations of fact in others but not in oneself. For example, a judge might think that only a juror with an unreasonable anti-police bias would see Salazar-Limon’s testimony as inconsistent with Thompson’s. Yet that judge may not realize that his own view of the facts is colored by his faith in police.

“If you’re a federal judge, you probably trust the authorities because you’re one of them and because you’ve had only great experiences with the cops,” said David Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the study. “These judges—the people who are making these decisions—haven’t lived the sorts of lives that would make them disposed not to trust the police.”

Whatever the cause, rulings like those in Salazar-Limon’s case carry with them potentially significant social costs. In Sotomayor’s words, they risk imposing “harm on society as a whole.” That includes an erosion of faith in federal courts, once seen as a bulwark against civil-rights violations. For one, these types of rulings deny those who claim to be victims of an abuse of state power access to a core democratic institution—a jury trial. For another, they dismiss as unreasonable a view of police testimony possibly held by a number of potential jurors. (A judge has to find that no reasonable juror could find for the plaintiff before granting summary judgment.)

The potential costs are particularly pronounced today, given widespread skepticism in many American communities of the willingness and ability of government officials to hold police accountable for misconduct. Grave concerns have been raised over whether internal-affairs investigators or prosecutors are taking such concerns seriously. A judge stepping into the place of a civilian jury can leave a federal court open to the same criticism—yet another government official denying alleged victims access to the legal process.

“It’s like you’ve been assaulted again. These judges take an oath before God and man to be administrators of justice, and they’re not doing their jobs,” said Marian Tolan, a plaintiff in one of the Fifth Circuit cases the Supreme Court summarily reversed in 2014. “It’s only justice for some and not justice for all.”

For those who maintain they have been mistreated by police, “this kind of civil litigation is in some ways the last hope,” said Howard Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University and scholar of policing and civil-rights litigation. “Police departments aren’t doing a good job of policing themselves. It’s really hard to get grand juries to indict an officer, and we’ve seen it’s very hard to get a jury to convict an officer in criminal cases. It’s really hard for the federal government to step in with civil-rights prosecutions because the state-of-mind requirement is too high”—proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer deliberately deprived a person of his or her rights—“and now we have a Department of Justice that has absolutely no interest in bringing those sorts of cases. So this is it, if you’re talking about some way to sanction officer-involved shootings.”

Not everybody agrees that appearances should concern courts. “There is a need to have better community relations and better understanding on both sides,” said Kevin Boyle, general counsel of the International Union of Police Associations. “But the courts are not the place to worry about community relations or community perceptions. That’s at the community and department level. The court is there to find the truth.”

Although Justice Sotomayor’s dissent may offer some backing to plaintiffs in future cases, it offers little to Salazar-Limon. He remains “a guy who was shot, who was unarmed, who’s paralyzed, and who won’t get to see the inside of a courtroom,” said David Mills, who represented him in his appeal to the Supreme Court. Now 31, he has spent several years training to work with computers, a career move necessitated by his paralysis. Another of his lawyers said Salazar-Limon has moved on from his anger at Thompson, but it remained palpable nearly three years after the shooting, during his deposition. “I believe he used too much force. He’s nobody to decide my life. He ruined my life,” Salazar-Limon said. “I’m suing him because he ruined my life.”