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Friday, October 06, 2006 

The Greenhouse Effect

SCOTUSblog has a podcast interview with Linda Greenhouse, the New York Times Supreme Court reporter. Attorney Tom Goldstein spends about 15 minutes with her, discussing a variety of Court related issues. Much of the focus is on Justice Harry Blackmun. Greenhouse wrote a biography about the former Justice after being given special access to his papers by Blackmun himself.

Goldstein asked Greenhouse about Blackmun as an example of a Justice who changed while on the Court. And he most certainly did, probably most drastically in his views on the death penalty. Why was he susceptible to change? He was from outside the Beltway. Blackmun wasn't a Washington lawyer; he was a Midwestern lawyer. When he was nominated to the Court, the move opened him up to new influences (the DC social circuit, public opinion, Linda Greenhouse). Greenhouse has doubts that Roberts and Alito will succumb to those influences, based on their experience with DC legal culture. I have to agree with her on that. I don't think that either of them care very much whether or not their opinions are praised in the pages of the New York Times. They're not Anthony Kennedy.

Greenhouse recently made a speech at Harvard that got a bit of attention for some political remarks. Howard Kurtz has the story at the bottom of the page...
Tom Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school, calls Greenhouse's remarks "ill-advised," saying that while she can "still report objectively on contentious issues before the Supreme Court, the average person can reasonably ask, how can that not color her stories?" But former Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent says it is impossible "to find any trace of her views in her work."
That's news to me. Greenhouse hasn't been shy about her views in the past. Ramesh Ponnuru provides a memory refresher...
In the spring of 1989, as the Supreme Court considered the Webster case. . . supporters of abortion rights staged a big march in Washington, D.C. Many reporters were there, of course. But not all of them were there to cover it. Several journalists from prominent newspapers were there as marchers. Linda Greenhouse, who has long covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times, was one of them.

The journalists' participation in the rally became controversial. The editors of the Times said that Greenhouse should not have marched. Other reporters tut-tutted her for bringing her objectivity into question. The dispute was somewhat otherworldly. No well-informed observer has ever thought that Greenhouse, or the Times, was unbiased, before or since the march. Conservatives even coined the phrase "the Greenhouse effect" to refer to the possibility that Supreme Court justices move left to get better coverage from her and like-minded scribes.

Greenhouse spent the second half of 1992 praising Casey in the Times as a "tightly reasoned" decision by "centrist" justices. She has described the dissenters-Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist-—as "the Court's far right." She has written that Roe has "taken on a life of its own, evolving into something . . . in tune with the ideals of the American mainstream." And she has written an admiring biography of Harry Blackmun.
I want to focus on the last paragraph, since I think the first two speak for themselves. Calling Casey tightly reasoned is a little puzzling to me. Any opinion that talks about "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life"” seems to have its head a bit too far in the clouds for my tastes. Also, I would love to get a copy of this article. I wonder if Greenhouse described the fourth dissenter, Justice Byron White, as part of "the Court's far right." If not, I wonder if she considered White, the Kennedy appointee and lifelong Democrat, to be as outside of the mainstream as Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas.

As I have mentioned before on here, I only read Greenhouse's work when there was an oral argument for a case that interested me. That's how I found out what the Justices asked, how the lawyers responded, and all of that other information used to read the tea leaves to project a vote. With the new same-day transcripts, I can bid Linda Greenhouse good bye. Somehow, I will manage without her.

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