Saturday’s New York Times led with Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak analyzing the ideological trend of the Court in “What We Learned This Term About the Supreme Court’s Shift to the Right” — a shift that has come about via the addition of three conservative justices appointed by President Trump.
The banner print headline, “Court’s Term Was Its Most Conservative Since 1931,” was accompanied by a large graphic sorting justices from left to right, liberal to conservative. The paper’s own ideological slant was clear from paragraph one:
The Supreme Court moved relentlessly to the right in its first full term with a six-justice conservative majority, issuing far-reaching decisions that will transform American life. It eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, recognized a Second Amendment right to carry guns outside the home, made it harder to address climate change and expanded the role of religion in public life.
But those blockbusters, significant though they were, only began to tell the story of the conservative juggernaut the court has become. By one standard measurement used by political scientists, the term that ended on Thursday was the most conservative since 1931.
“The data provide stunning confirmation of the Republican-conservative takeover of the Supreme Court,” said Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at the University of Southern California who oversees the Supreme Court Database.
From the paper’s perspective, that’s definitely not a good thing. An ACLU director was quoted whining, “the doomsayers got it exactly right, as the court traded caution for raw power.”
The dynamic on the new court is different and lopsided, with six Republican appointees and three Democratic ones. The median justice appears to be Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, appointed by Mr. Trump to replace the more liberal Justice Kennedy….
Liptak made his sympathies clear:
The court’s three liberals were perfectly aware that they had been marginalized by what Justice Sonia Sotomayor called, in dissenting from a decision that made it harder to sue federal officials for constitutional violations, “a restless and newly constituted court.”
In their joint dissent in the abortion case, the three liberal justices said the court had replaced reason with power.
Liptak reliably related:
The court’s public approval is certainly plummeting. In a Gallup poll taken after the leaked draft of the abortion opinion but before the formal decision, for instance, public confidence in the court fell to 25 percent, the lowest in the nearly 50 years over which the survey has been conducted.
Professor Grove said the court’s authority could not withstand a lasting loss of public trust.
Liptak has been writing about the supposed decline of the Supreme Court’s credibility for at least 10 years, conveniently tracing the trend back to the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision. In the Times‘ telling, public disapproval increases with every conservative ruling laid down. Oddly, the Court’s standing with the public wasn’t an issue during the body’s decades of reliably liberal decision-making on abortion, education, affirmative action, religion, gay marriage, etc.
In the early 1990s, the conservative movement hadn’t yet coalesced a judicial counterweight. Former Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse noted that a “hot-button” summer 1992 school prayer decision, lost by the conservative pro-prayer side 5-4, “disappointed conservatives.”
Greenhouse then asked rhetorically, did conservatives “inside or outside the Supreme Court, run crying to the press? They did not. The behind-the-scenes drama remained largely unknown….”
Conservatives certainly didn’t protest the homes of justices or try to assassinate them. Only in recent years, with liberal activists wailing about dawning fascism, has the press developed faux-concern over the Court’s public reputation.