The New York Times did its best to begin the Supreme Court debate by mainstreaming Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, as a “brilliant” “centrist” and moderate voice of reason.
Reporters Michael Shear and Gardiner Harris treated the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with kid gloves in the paper’s initial reporting Wednesday, with the same kind of pro-Democratic labeling slant the paper has always shown toward Supreme Court nominees. A 2010 Media Research Center report, Supremely Slanted, exposed the Times stark disparity in labeling “conservative” justices nominated by Republicans compared to “liberal” ones nominated by Democrats. While three Republican-nominated justices were labeled “conservative” 105 times, four justices nominated by Democrats were labeled liberal on just 14 occasions.
The centering started in sentence one:
President Obama on Wednesday nominated Merrick B. Garland as the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice, choosing a centrist appeals court judge for the lifetime appointment and daring Republican senators to refuse consideration of a jurist who is highly regarded throughout Washington.
Mr. Obama introduced Judge Garland to an audience of his family members, activists, and White House staff in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, describing him as exceptionally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court in the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
The president said Judge Garland is “widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence. These qualities and his long commitment to public service have earned him the respect and admiration from leaders from both sides of the aisle.”
In choosing Judge Garland, a well-known moderate who has drawn bipartisan support over decades, Mr. Obama was essentially daring Republicans to press their election-year confirmation fight over a judge many of them have publicly praised and who would be difficult for them to reject, particularly if a Democrat were to win the November presidential election and they faced the prospect of a more liberal nominee in 2017.
The reporters threw garlands in Garland’s path:
Judge Garland is often described as brilliant and, at 63, is somewhat older for a Supreme Court nominee. He is two years older than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has been with the court for more than 10 years. The two served together on the appeals court and are said to be friends.
Mr. Obama’s choice of Judge Garland has the potential to reshape the balance of power on the court for two decades, providing another reliable vote for the court’s four-member liberal block. After the death last month of Mr. Scalia, the court is evenly divided and a new justice appointed by Mr. Obama could become the deciding vote on cases involving immigration, civil liberties, abortion, race, voting rights and the death penalty.
The Times couldn’t locate any liberals, but found plenty of conservatives pitted against the Obama nominee.
During most of the last decade, the court has been deeply and bitterly divided. But conservatives on the bench have usually emerged victorious from that discord. Under the direction of Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has bolstered gun and property rights while striking down voter protections and weakening campaign finance laws. It has tended to side with business interests over those of labor. And while the court legalized gay marriage last year, it has also ruled in ways that could eventually restrict college admissions based on race.
For conservatives, the fight over Mr. Obama’s nominee is perhaps the most critical moment in their almost decade-long crusade to defend their ideological influence. From the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated in 2009, conservatives vowed to keep him from changing Washington, as he had pledged during his campaign. Preventing another Obama justice on the Supreme Court is vital to that mission.
The paper’s actual Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak somewhat disagreed in a clip that accompanied the story, calling Merrick a “relative moderate appointment” while also admitting that “he would be the 5th member of a liberal block on the Court.”
Carrie Servino at National Review looked at a vital 2nd Amendment case and found Merrick not so “moderate.”
Also, a 1984 story in the New York Times cites a lawyer with the same unusual appellation as working for the liberal Mondale-Ferraro campaign that lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign.