True or False: Jacobs, Masks and Democracy Forward

Question marks over Jacobs' tweet

True or False: Jacobs and Democracy Forward

Fact-checking the county mayor’s tweets about Hillary Clinton.

by jesse fox mayshark • october 27, 2021

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question marks over Jacobs tweet

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has been tweeting a lot about Hillary Clinton lately. A lot. In fact, he has tweeted about her every day since Oct. 22. It is unclear if Jacobs is trying to get the attention of Clinton herself (whom he tags in every tweet) or possibly generate some coverage from national conservative media.

Whatever the goal, the substance of these tweets is largely false. We have fact-checked them several times already. But since they are now a daily occurrence, we thought it would be helpful to have the fact-check in one easily referenced location.

What It Says

The tweets are all more or less the same. The one posted on Oct. 27 says, “By the way, @DemocracyFwd, a @HillaryClinton front group, is making policy in Knox County by subverting the decisions of democratically elected bodies using activist judges.”

What It Means

Jacobs is suggesting that a “front group” for the former secretary of state, first lady and presidential candidate is reaching directly into Knox County schools to force a mask mandate on students and staff, by way of a puppet judge. The reference to “democratically elected bodies” is to the Knox County school board, which voted 5-4 not to require masks in schools this year.

What Is True About It

There is a nonprofit organization named Democracy Forward, which provides legal services to progressive groups and causes. It was formed in 2017 by several veterans of the 2016 Clinton campaign who foresaw a need for representation during the Trump administration. It has filed lawsuits and records requests in more than 650 cases, on issues ranging from labor rights to environmental causes to lending discrimination. There are similar legal support groups on the right, including the conservative Judicial Watch, the libertarian Institute for Justice and the evangelical Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

Among Democracy Forward's current efforts is filing briefs on behalf of physicians’ groups in court cases about school COVID-19 policies, including mask mandates. In Tennessee, the group has filed or attempted to file amicus briefs on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and its state chapter. Both the state and national AAP have consistently advocated for schools to follow federal health guidelines during the pandemic, including wearing face masks indoors.

What Is False About It

First, Hillary Clinton is not involved in Democracy Forward. It is not entirely clear what Jacobs means by calling the nonprofit a “front group” for Clinton, but there is no evidence she has any involvement in the group, much less in setting its priorities or choosing cases to participate in.

Second, Democracy Forward did not file any of the lawsuits in Tennessee against Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order requiring an opt-out provision in school mask policies. Those suits have been brought by students with disabilities and their families, and filed by lawyers who are not affiliated with Democracy Forward.

Third, the extent of Democracy Forward’s activities in the cases has been filing amicus briefs on behalf of Tennessee pediatricians. Jacobs has not once mentioned pediatricians in his tweets, making it seem as if Democracy Forward is acting on behalf of Clinton rather than Tennessee doctors. 

Fourth, the judge hearing the Knox County lawsuit, U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer, is a Republican who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush. If Jacobs has any evidence that Greer is an “activist judge” being “used” by Hillary Clinton, he has not provided it.

Fifth, and maybe most important from a fact-check standpoint, Greer did not even allow the amicus brief from Democracy Forward to be filed in the Knox County case. Since the brief was in support of the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and Greer had already decided to grant the injunction, he ruled that the pediatricians’ brief was “denied as moot” to the proceedings. He said the doctors’ group was free to file future briefs in the case if it chose.

Conclusion

Jacobs’ repeated tweets are written to make it appear as though Hillary Clinton and Democracy Forward are behind the lawsuit brought by Knox County families that has resulted in a temporary mask mandate in Knox County Schools.

In fact, Clinton is not involved in Democracy Forward, and Democracy Forward’s only role in lawsuits against Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order has been to file amicus briefs on behalf of Tennessee pediatricians. And in the Knox County case, U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer denied the pediatricians’ request to file a brief and did not even consider it in his ruling.

Therefore, Jacobs’ tweets are false on several counts and misleading on others.

Got any facts you want us to check? Statements by local political or community leaders or groups? Send them to info@compassknox.com, with the subject line "True or False."