The Strange Fight Over Who Should Take John Conyers Spot Atop The Judiciary Committee

from the there's-a-bit-more-to-look-at-than-that... dept

As you may have heard, Rep. John Conyers recently stepped down from his role as Ranking Member (basically top member of the minority party) on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, and this week has announced his retirement, in response to multiple accusations of sexual harassment. That has kicked off something of an interesting and important debate over who should replace him as ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

The next in line by seniority is Rep. Jerry Nadler. But right behind him is Rep. Zoe Lofgren. By way of disclosure, I’ll note that I’ve gotten to know Lofgren over the years, and have donated to her election campaign. But even before I’d ever spoken to her, I’ve noted how she remains one of the few people in Congress who seems to consistently do the right thing on basically all of the issues that we care about at Techdirt. You can see our past coverage of stories involving Lofgren. Most specifically on copyright and surveillance, she hasn’t just been on the right side, she’s been leading the way. She is, almost single-handedly, the person who stopped SOPA from passing. She has consistently raised important issues and introduced important bills and amendments concerning copyright, NSA surveillance and the CFAA among other things.

Obviously, I think she’d make a great ranking member for the Judiciary Committee (or the chair should the House flip sides in the future). So I was happy to see her recently announce her intention to run for the Ranking Member position against Nadler. Who knows if she’ll actually get the position, but I found it odd that upon announcing it, she was immediately attacked by, of all places, The Intercept, which put forth a really strange article accusing Lofgren of being a Google shill. This was strange on multiple levels — though, I get it. Lofgren gets called a “Google shill” for the same reasons that we do here at Techdirt. Because, even though we frequently disagree with Google on a variety of issues, on the whole we support many of the same policies that protect free speech and open innovation online.

That’s also true of Lofgren. While she’s supported key policies on copyright, online speech, innovation and surveillance, she’s similarly pushed back against Google quite frequently as well. She’s publicly criticized the company for its lack of diversity. She’s voted against a bill to expand H1-B visas that Google supported. She voted against Trade Promotion Authority (which Google stupidly supported — as noted in one of my links above) that paved the way to moving forward on TPP. On top of that, the tech industry has mostly pushed back on CFAA reform, such as Lofgren’s Aaron’s Law, because companies want to have it as a tool to use against employees at times. Just recently, Lofgren has started digging into competition inssues in Silicon Valley, warning about the lack of competition and how it’s a problem — a position that, more than likely, Google finds worrisome.

That’s just part of why it’s so odd that the Intercept, of all publications, would post this article suggesting that Lofgren doesn’t belong as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee just because she’s “close” to Google. Even odder, is the fact that the authors of the piece — two reporters whose work I’ve long respected, Ryan Grim and Lee Fang — focus entirely on claiming that Lofgren is a product of Google, while ignoring anything about Nadler. Not only has Nadler been on the wrong side of many of these same key issues, if you consider Lofgren somehow tied to Google (again, incorrectly) then you would similarly have to conclude that Nadler is in the pocket of the legacy entertainment industry, and their ongoing quest to destroy the internet as we know it. If you start looking at Nadler’s campaign finance situation, it sure looks like he’s the MPAA and the RIAA’s favorite Congressman.

In the last campaign cycle, the RIAA gave significantly more to Nadler than any other Democrat. Same with Disney. Same with Sony. Same with Time Warner. Same with Universal Music. Same with the Association of American Publishers. Same with ASCAP. While Viacom gave a bit more to three other members, Nadler was the 4th highest support on the Democratic side. Comcast gave a little more to Conyers, but again, Nadler is near the top of the list. The Grammys have given more to Nadler than any other Democrat, and he repays them by holding events with them all the time.

There’s a pretty clear pattern here. If the legacy copyright players want something on the Democratic side, Nadler’s their guy. And, maybe that doesn’t matter to the Intercept. Maybe it doesn’t matter that bad copyright policies that he promotes would have serious downsides to the way the internet works, to free speech and to privacy. Maybe, the Intercept has decided that any possible “connection” to Google is worse than everything else. But considering that the whole creation of The Intercept came about because of the Snowden revelations, and a key focus of The Intercept is to report on the evils of government surveillance, it’s kind of surprising that it would publish an article promoting Nadler over Lofgren while ignoring that Nadler has not always been a close friend of surveillance reform. It’s true that he’s sponsored some reform efforts, including the USA Freedom Act, but just last month he was seen voting against an important amendment brought forth by Lofgren, to end backdoor searches in the ongoing effort to reform Section 702.

So it seems odd that the Intercept is effectively arguing that Nadler would make a better ranking member on Judiciary, even as Lofgren has a stronger record on stopping government surveillance, just because some (falsely) believe that Lofgren is “tied” to Google. And, at the very least, if they’re going to tar Lofgren because her views sometimes align with Google’s, it seems that it could at least treat Nadler equally by looking into his close connections with the legacy entertainment business.

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Comments on “The Strange Fight Over Who Should Take John Conyers Spot Atop The Judiciary Committee”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sure. Justin Amash and Ted Poe are excellent on surveillance. Darrell Issa is mostly good on copyright and very good on patents (and decent on surveillance). Kevin Yoder is great on surveillance/ECPA reform. Thomas Massie is quite good on a variety of issues. There are a bunch. I’m not a member of any party and have never supported a particular party. I tend to look at where people stand on the issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just Wow!

Who cares what side of the political spectrum he’s on, At least he be able to point faults in both sides. So much better that adding to the ‘Us vs. them’ attitude problem with both parties.

It’s a problem when you have people supporting horrible ideas/people just because they happen to be in your party.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Just Wow!

I had often suspected that Mike at the extreme left side of the political spectrum, Progressive to Marxist, and it looks like I was correct.

Huh? As I’ve made clear over and over again, I am neither left nor right on the political spectrum. I think that’s a misleading framing. I look at individual issues. I agree with some Democrats on some issue and some Republicans on some issues, and I disagree with both on many issues as well. I think party politics is destructive.

Just because I agree with Lofgren on tech/copyright/surveillance does not make me a "leftist" any more than the fact that I agree with, say, Justin Amash on a bunch of issues, makes me a "right winger."

I’m sorry that you are so into tribalism that you cannot see that.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just Wow!

I love how you completely ignore any evidence that refutes your claims and offer no actual counter-argument or pertinent evidence. It’s almost endearing. Almost.

Seriously, how exactly does that video say anything about Mike’s politics? Zoe—a Democratic politician—is basically just talking about how successful Democrats have been in California (which they are) at a Democratic convention in California. It doesn’t have anything to do with how well she’d do in the Judiciary Committee, or her positions on the issues mentioned in this article. Also, saying that a person is a good choice for something because of their position on certain issues doesn’t mean you agree with them on every issue, nor does it mean that you support their political party.

Heck, I’m a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the Democratic Party on every issue, that I support every Democratic politician, that I agree with every politician I do support on every issue, or that there aren’t some areas where I agree with Republicans, conservatives, or libertarians.

You’re conflating a lot of different things and ignoring any arguments or explanations that don’t support your preconceived notions. Your view seems way too black-and-white.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I’ve noted how she remains one of the few people in Congress who seems to consistently do the right thing on basically all of the issues that we care about at Techdirt.”

Yea, I also tend to think that most people that agree with me on most issues are also one of the few people who seems to consistently do the right thing on basically all of the issue I care about too, the difference is that Lofgren is not one of them in my book.

So yay, you endorse Lofgren!

Anonymous Coward says:

I too am not a Google shill!

Google in no way or degree funds or “supports” me: in fact, I avoid it so much as can. — However, that I, nor anyone, cannot avoid Google’s surveillance entirely is a key complaint. — I wish Google to be broken up: search separated from advertising, all other components de-trusted. Heck, I’d even nationalize / utilitize it, since uniquely valuable up to essential. We The People can and should get Google’s “algorithm” for free (that’s as you advocate for patents / copyright), and the webly indexing for much lower cost. — Problem solved! No one need again be accused of shilling for it if a nationalized utility.

So anyway, two non-shills and yet disagree entirely! Explain that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I too am not a Google shill!

As I’ve remarked now and then, it’s impossible to out-parody you. You’re again utterly puzzled that the history of you and Lofgren could be regarded as anything but absolutely honest, the product of coldly objective ratiocination of how well Google serves the needs of humanity, at great sacrifice to its own interests. Money — including from stock price increases — could never sway your sterling character.

And you simply cannot see any other viewpoint, not even that there ARE other viewpoints! It’s a characteristic failing of elites.

[ This is a bit weak I admit, because I don’t want to be seen as teasing the feeble-minded. If Masnick (and Godwin) can’t see that stating “I’m not a Google shill” several times now is worse than nothing, then I have to doubt their sanity. ]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I too am not a Google shill!

            SOPA lost due to organization.

That tends to happen when attempting to pass a shit bill that affects most everyone.

No doubt it’s difficult to mobilize an informal, spontaneous, ad hoc, network-enabled, flash organization — in order to energize a congressional committee chair or ranking member election. But these committee appointments still “affect most everyone.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I too am not a Google shill!

Considering many of the people that work at Google doesn’t how their algorithms work…
Not sure that plan would work out for you.

It doesn’t help on your last part that there already are other search engines/ web crawlers out there.

Also the management and upkeep of “the webly indexing for much lower cost” would need funding to stay afloat…

seedeevee (profile) says:

The problem.

No one has stopped Government surveillance. Not Zoe Lofgren. Not anyone. Government abuses are at an all-time high.

That is the problem.

Lawyer Lofgren and her predecessor, former FBI agent and lawyer Don Edwards, have been my only congressspersons for 5 straight decades. They can’t take all of the blame, but she deserves to take some for how shitty things have become.

I hate to end this rant with “but she would be way better than Nadler.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The problem.

The democratic process in Congress basically works like this…

Classic Schoolhouse Rock: “I’m Just A Bill”   (3 min video) (audience: children)


A fairly recent (2014) counterpoint from Vox: “How a bill really becomes a law: What Schoolhouse Rock missed

As Congressional gridlock and dysfunction worsen, Schoolhouse Rock’s "I’m Just a Bill" seems to be missing a few key steps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Vote Expected Week of Dec 18, 2017

According to an article yesterday in The Hill, “Dems aim to elect Conyers replacement on Judiciary this month” (by Mike Lillis, Dec 5, 2017) the Democratic Party is expected to select the new ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee during the week of December 18th.

A Democratic aide said the election between Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) — and perhaps others — is expected the week of Dec. 18.

Anonymous Coward says:

House Judiciary Democrats

U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary — Democratic Party Members

  • Jerrold Nadler, New York
  • Zoe Lofgren, California
  • Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas
  • Steve Cohen, Tennessee
  • Henry Johnson, Georgia
  • Luis Gutierrez, Illinois
  • Karen Bass, California
  • Cedric Richmond, Louisiana
  • Hakeem Jeffries, New York
  • David Cicilline, Rhode Island
  • Eric Swalwell, California
  • Ted Lieu, California
  • Jamie Raskin, Maryland
  • Pramila Jayapal, Washington
  • Bradley Schneider, Illinois
  • Theodore Deutch, Florida
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whose decision? All Democrats or just committee Democrats?

My Democratic Congresswoman is not on the Judiciary Committee, so would contacting her be a waste of time?

I was hoping someone involved in Democratic party politics would step forward to answer people’s questions about the process.

If you google a bit, it’s not too hard to find an answer or three to your “whose decision?” query. But whether those googled answers truly explain?

Unfortunately, while I’m fairly certain that a large cash donation always gets attention, I don’t really know how much weight actually gets placed on non-cash viewpoints.

IndieRafael (profile) says:

Process notes

As a former congressional staffer, I offer a few notes:

Who decides? All House Democrats vote on who the ranking member will be. (It’s one of the reforms from the 1970s, when power of the leadership was reduced.) These tend to be insider elections so lobbying your member of Congress may have limited utility, but can’t hurt.

When? Politico: “election…expected the week of Dec. 18.”

What is default criterion? Seniority (time on the committee). Nadler is senior to Lofgren, for what that’s worth. It used to be rare to challenge the senior member of one’s party for Chair or Ranking Member. There is still a strong bias for seniority. Understandably, groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and others tend be be strong defenders of seniority because seniority has served CBC members well.

What are other criteria members consider? In recent decades it is more common for a non-senior member to challenge. Other considerations when selecting a Ranking Member may include: which one raises the most money for the party (important), is most in tune with the party’s positions, comes from the same state or region, and/or has a fatal flaw. Ultimately, these elections are often personal and based on human relationships between members.

Process for more than two candidates? Right now it’s only Nadler and Lofgren (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee would not win but could run to make a point, though she’s CBC member so perhaps not.) If there were more than two candidates, then members vote in multiple rounds, dropping the lowest-scoring candidate each time. So, when holding elections among themselves, members of Congress never have the “spoiler” problem they inflict on regular voters (and which could be solved by Rank Choice Voting aka Instant Runoff Voting, if you will permit me the off-topic plug for one of my per reform proposals).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Process notes

As a former congressional staffer, I offer a few notes…

Thank you.


Understandably, groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and others tend be be strong defenders of seniority because seniority has served CBC members well.

Let’s agree that it would have looked extremely bad to change customs just right when racial minorities or other historically disfavored groups — just right at the moment those individual representatives gained seniority.

Regardless of any other factors that might have counseled a change in customs.

IndieRafael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Process notes

Agreed. Another group that supported and prospered under the seniority system was southern members. By reelecting members (House and Senate) decade after decades, southerners gained more power in Congress.

I offered some explanation of who supports seniority and why in my post because I assumed that Techdirt readers might lean meritocratic generally, especially in this case when (less-senior) Lofgren’s positions are much closer to Techdirt’s.

The seniority system has some advantages, such as reducing conflicts, since members just have to hang in there and wait their turn at the top if they last that long. The seniority system also may help reduce the role of money somewhat (from obscene to outrageous).

On the other hand, sometimes non-senior members really have better ideas and more talent, which may be valuable to a political party, and the country.

Finally, in the mid-1990s House Republicans imposed three-term limits on their Chairs and Ranking members (as committee leaders, not as members of Congress). Some in Washington, DC say it makes them less effective but I think it may be a good idea. Anyway, House Democrats never adopted such limits.

Rackle says:

I find it odd to blame to highlight Lofgren criticizing Google on the diversity shtick. There’s nothing to even remotely suggest Google has had a policy to avoid hiring American ethnic and/or gender minorities or otherwise favor people born with an evil amount of melanin in their skin.

As much as I find the modern-day ethnic and gender purity enforcement in tech tiresome and depressing, my hatred for the MAFIAA runs deeper than my hatred for the “diverse” cast of bullying, community-destroying, driving anti-social and conflict averse nerds to suicide, hypocritical, gaslighting sociopaths.

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