NYT: Alito Tilts "Court to the Right," But Ruth Bader Ginsburg was Apparently Apolitical

January 31st, 2006 2:25 PM

New York Times "continuous news desk" reporter David Stout posted a story at 1:23 Tuesday afternoon marking the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court by a Senate vote of 58-42.

The teaser sentence: “The vote is a triumph for President Bush and conservatives who have longed to tilt the balance of the court to the right.”

Stout’s text emphasizes Alito’s conservatism again and again:

“Samuel A. Alito Jr., who has been widely praised for his intellect and integrity but both admired and assailed for his conservative judicial philosophy, was sworn in today as the 110th justice in the history of the Supreme Court. The ceremony, at the Supreme Court, came shortly after Justice Alito was confirmed by a sharply divided Senate, which voted 58 to 42, largely along party lines.”

Stout again emphasizes:

“The vote is also a triumph for the conservative movement, whose adherents have longed to tilt the balance of the court to the right. Admirers and critics have predicted that Samuel Alito will do just that. Legal scholars have described his jurisprudence as cautious, respectful of precedent -- and solidly conservative. In contrast, the justice he will succeed, Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring, came to be widely regarded as a swing justice between the tribunal's liberal and conservative wings.”
Later he writes that Alito “becomes the second relatively young conservative to ascend to the court in recent months.”

Though the profile is not hostile, the emphasis on Alito’s conservatism comes in sharp contrast to how the Times covered the Senate vote that made liberal former ACLU lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg a Supreme Court Justice.

The August 4, 1993 story by Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse (who has the same beat at the Times today) makes no statement of Ginsburg’s liberalism, but forwards an apolitical detail from her big day of winning Senate confirmation 96-3:

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg easily won confirmation to the Supreme Court today, and within hours of the Senate vote Judge Ginsburg, who argued six cases before the Justices as an advocate for women's rights, returned to the Court to inspect her new office. Judge Ginsburg, who was on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, will officially become Justice Ginsburg when she takes the oath of office next Tuesday. She arrived at the Court in midafternoon in a silver Nissan Maxima driven by her husband, Martin.”

There is some ideological labeling -- of conservatives, anyway:

“She was confirmed this morning by a vote of 96 to 3. The only votes against her came from three conservative Republicans: Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire. Senator Donald W. Riegle Jr., a Michigan Democrat, did not appear for the vote.”

Later, Ginsburg went to the White House and stood beside President Bill Clinton: “Inviting questions, Judge Ginsburg got this one: ‘You've been called a liberal, you've been called a conservative, you've been called a moderate. What are you?’”

Greenhouse could have answered that by pointing to Ginsberg’s ACLU record and past decisions, but instead let Ginsburg toss the question aside with a bon mot:

“Borrowing pointedly from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta ‘Iolanthe,’ she replied, to the apparent confusion of the White House press corps, ‘I don't believe that every child that's born alive is either a little liberal or else a little conservative, except in Gilbert and Sullivan.’”

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.