July 14, 2008

C-SPAN Alert and NY Times v. Reality

C-SPAN3 has announced a live broadcast of today’s Senate Republican Conference forum on the judicial confirmation process. Beginning at 2:00 pm today, Sen. Arlen Specter and seven of his Senate colleagues will investigate the politicization of the confirmation process and the legitimacy of the “Thurmond Rule,” as they question witnesses from the Congressional Research Service, Northwestern University Law School, and the North Carolina Bar Association. Watch the forum in Russell Senate Building room 385 or on C-SPAN3.

Speaking of judges, former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Stuart Taylor provided the paper with a much-needed reality check in his column yesterday, after a Times editorial claimed that the Supreme Court was “teetering on the brink” of “far-right” disaster in its just-ended term.

As Taylor points out, several of the “far-right” decisions the Times found so disturbing this term were written or joined by the Court’s liberal Justices. Apparently only Justice Ginsburg escaped the conservative Kool-Aid:
"A new wrinkle in this summer’s assessments is that the conservative cabal appears to have co-opted liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens."

As we noted following the Court’s Boumediene (Guantanamo) decision last month,

“While it’s certainly true that the Court has drifted right of the New York Times, the nation’s law faculty, and the typical elite cocktail party, the dirty little secret is that the Court is decidedly centrist when compared to the American people. The hysteria about the Court’s ‘right wing assault’ on abortion, desegregation, and the separation of church and state has obscured the fact that large majorities of the public oppose partial-birth abortion and racial preferences and favor some role for religion in the public sphere.”

Taylor goes even further and provides specific poll results with lopsided majorities in concluding that

“[On] six of the most contentious subjects that come before the justices on a securring basis: abortion; race; religion; the death penalty; gay rights; and presidential war powers. On every one of them, the Court’s precedents are to the left of, or very close to, the center.”
“The point,” Taylor says, “is that it’s misleading to brand as ‘far-right’ and ‘radical’ positions that in fact are more liberal than, or near the center of, mainstream public opinion.”

But what about the Times’s argument that “the court is just one justice away from solidifying a far-right majority that would do great damage?” That, of course, assumes that there are already four dangerously conservative justices on the Court. However, as Taylor points out,

“Roberts and Alito are ‘far-right’ and ‘radical’ (as Times columnist Frank Rich has called them) only to people who are themselves more than a little bit to the left on he public opinion spectrum.”

In the last paragraph of the Times editorial, we learn that the paper’s hysterics about the just-ended Supreme Court term are intended as a warning to voters “when they go to the polls in November.” If the Times editorial board actually believes that focusing on the 2007-08 term will scare Americans into voting Democratic, they should review the poll results in Taylor’s column and ask themselves whether the Court’s decisions last month expanding the rights of child rapists and foreign terror suspects has made Reagan Democrats and other swing voters hungry for a more liberal Supreme Court.

Finally, although the Times makes itself an easy target, it is somewhat unfair to focus just on that paper. As Taylor notes, hallucinations about right-wing bogeymen running the Court extend to a “sizable slice of the journalistic-academic-cosmopolitan world typified by The New York Times’ editorial page.”

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