Great Minds Think Alike, and So Do New York Times Legal Reporters

New York Times legal reporter Charlie Savage's original online report on the long-expected retirement of liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (filed Friday afternoon) had a familiar ring to it which went beyond the usual effusiveness the paper bestows on liberal justices.

While noting Stevens held down the left wing of the Supreme Court, Savage twice emphasized the court's "increasingly conservative" nature in his original posting:

A soft-spoken Republican and former antitrust lawyer from Chicago, Justice Stevens has led liberals on a court that has become increasingly conservative. He was appointed by President Gerald Ford in December 1975 to succeed Justice William O. Douglas, who had retired the month before. He is the longest-serving current justice by more than a decade.


Confronted with a court far more conservative than the one he joined, Justice Stevens showed the world what his colleagues already knew: that beneath his amiable manner lay a canny strategist and master tactician, qualities he used to win victories that a simple liberal-conservative head count would appear to be impossible. A frequent dissenter even in his early years on the court, he now wrote more blunt and passionate opinions, explaining on several occasions that the nation was best served by an open airing of disagreements.

This next paragraph sounded very familiar to Times Watch:

Justice Stevens's plainspoken style has characterized the last years of his tenure. In cases involving prisoners held without charge at the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the mentally retarded on death row, his version of American justice propelled by common sense and moral clarity commanded a majority.

(Savage's original Times story has been updated and no longer contains the above quote, but you can read it in its original version here at the website of a North Carolina paper, The Times-News, a member of The New York Times Regional Media Group.)

Savage's colleague, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, said much the same thing in a January 26 tribute to Stevens:

In cases involving prisoners held without charge at Guantánamo Bay and the mentally retarded on death row, his version of American justice was propelled by common sense and moral clarity, and it commanded a majority.

There's no indication in the bylines that Liptak or Savage contributed to each other's pieces. Times Watch guesses a copy editor was trying to save some time on a breaking story by recycling what must have seemed a particularly cogent paragraph from an earlier piece on retirement speculation about Justice Stevens.

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