Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Supreme Court Journalism

In contrast to my own writing about the Supreme Court, here is an example of a very poorly-written article about that institution.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post writes about Associate Justice David Souter's last day in that office.

Milbank seems to be trying to paint a picture of a group who engage in known-down-drag-out fights with each other, with only the kinder, gentler Souter (thereby bearing at least some resemblance to the president who appointed him) standing above the fray.

Now, I've never been invited into the conferences at which the justices discuss their positions on cases. But Mr. Milbank is not allowed in the conference room either. The nine justices are the only human beings in the room. Those nine consistently and unanimously report that never is a voice raised in anger during those conferences.

I suppose it's possible that they could all be lying about that, but I doubt it. If I'm correct about that, then we can assume that the words of "friendship" and "sadness" that were exchanged between Souter and Chief Justice John Roberts were sincere. Too bad; Milbank would have a much more exciting story, if the truth were otherwise.

Milbank incorrectly states that, if Souter had not voted to reaffirm the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, "abortion would be illegal in the United States today." Abortion would only have been illegal in those states that would have chosen to reinstate their statutory prohibitions of it. Most observers think that that would be a small minority of the states, at most.

I don't advocate the overturn of Roe, but such an overstatement of the consequences doesn't contribute to reasoned debate on the issue.

Only someone who wants the Court to be a super-legislature, would think that its decisions would (and/or should) have such implications.

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