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Is the Supreme Court Picking on the Media?

Lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court expect tough questioning, perhaps even skepticism or ridicule from the justices. But journalists? According to this commentary, The Supreme Press Critics Take on the Fourth Estate by Supreme Court reporter Dahlia Lithwick (Slate, 10/24/06), Justices Scalia and Alito have been speaking out against the media, in some instances at events that are closed to the press and the public. As an example, Lithwick writes that last weekend at a conference sponsored by the National Italian-American foundation, Scalia criticized the quality of media coverage of Supreme Court cases, asserting that "The press is never going to report judicial opinions accurately." Lithwick continues:

And although, if anything, the Supreme Court press corps is hypercautious in its attention to legal detail at the expense of sensationalism, Scalia dismisses them, and their readers, because, in his view, "nobody would read it if you went into the details of the law that the court has to resolve."

Justice Samuel Alito apparently picked up on the theme, complaining about the role of the Internet in legal reporting, suggesting that the media either oversimplifies or sensationalizes decisions (I guess Alito doesn't realize that while he turns up his nose at Internet reporting, his colleagues are increasingly citing blogs in their opinions).

Lithwick also quotes Justice Roberts' recent comment that judges don't serve to educate the public about the law and the court system. And perhaps that's true. But the legitimacy of our judicial system comes from the public confidence in the system, which in turn, comes about only where the public knows what's going on. As Lithwick concludes:

Either the justices want Americans to understand and care about what they do in that big old white building, or they don't. It's too late to hope that citizens might just choose to tune out. And if the justices want Americans to be educated about the court, they should encourage the fullest reporting possible, recognizing that some of it will be good and some will be bad, but that more information is always better than less. The justices can keep taking swipes at the Internet, imaginary editorialists, and phantom tabloid reporters for making them look bad. Or they can recognize what makes them look even worse: themselves.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 26, 2006 at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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