NY Times SCOTUS Scare Tactics: ‘How Far to the Right Will the Supreme Court Go?’

October 2nd, 2023 7:55 PM

The front page of Monday’s New York Times marked the return of the U.S. Supreme Court to the bench with the scary-sounding headline “How Far to the Right Will the Supreme Court Go?” by Supreme Court beat reporters Adam Liptak and Abbie VanSickle.

Recent history suggests that the court’s six Republican appointees will continue to move the law to the right. The main questions are how far, how fast and what impact the questions swirling around the justices’ ethical standards will have on their judicial work and personal relationships.

It has been almost three years since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court, creating a six-justice conservative supermajority. In her first full term, ending in June last year, that majority ran the table in blockbuster cases on abortion, guns, the environment and religion.

The most recent term, which ended this summer, also featured significant conservative victories, on affirmative action, student loans and gay rights. But the balance of the court’s decisions presented a more complicated picture, featuring occasional liberal victories from unusual alliances.

Liptak and VanSickle shared the liberal obsession with the potential extremism of the Supreme Court, now dominated by Republican presidential appointees. (The paper never fretted about the left-wing Supreme Court which dominated the country for decades.)

The new term will test Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s ability to steer his court toward the sort of incrementalism he has long espoused, perhaps in alliances with Justices Barrett and Brett M. Kavanaugh. If liberals achieve some victories, though, those may come because litigants and lower courts had staked out positions too extreme for even a fundamentally conservative Supreme Court.

A Second Amendment case, to be argued in November, could be an example of such potential overreach. The case, United States v. Rahimi, No. 22-915, is an appeal from a decision striking down a federal law that disarms people subject to domestic violence restraining orders.

Liptak and VanSickle carefully targeted conservative justices for criticism, based on hit pieces from ProPublica.

The court will do its work as calls mount for it to address what critics say were grave ethical lapses by the justices.

In particular, Justice Thomas for decades accepted gifts and trips from Harlan Crow, a Texas billionaire who has donated to conservative causes, and did not disclose them. Mr. Crow’s largess extended to covering private school tuition for the grandnephew Justice Thomas was raising and buying the home of the justice’s mother. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., for his part, flew on the private jet of a hedge fund magnate with business before the court and did not recuse himself in related cases.

Liberal justices like the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had her own ethical controversies, or current Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who cajoled schools and libraries into buying her book during speaking tours, weren’t mentioned as among the “grave ethical lapses by the justices.”

Liptak has a history of bashing both the conservative court and the U.S. Constitution itself as illegitimate or outdated. In 2012 he described the founding document as “terse and old” for failing to guarantee “entitlements” like health care -- for not being a liberal laundry list of “free” (i.e., tax-funded) so-called rights.