Friday, August 17, 2007

Court Decisions

One of the few things I know for certain is that the mainstream media (blogs, newspapers, radio and especially television) get court decisions wrong. I know why that is, but that doesn't change that the reporters rarely understand what's actually been decided.

Legal parlance is obscure at best and very few reporters have any training in law at all. Add to that that most court decisions, especially supreme or appellate court decisions, are lengthy affairs. The reporter, who is generally results oriented, has to make a quick decision as to what the relevant bits are for the story. The story that results typically gets some of the results correct, but rarely the rationale.

Even the most activist court in the land rarely issues a broad change in the law. From a judicial standpoint, a Roe V. Wade decision can be a nightmare, triggering years of dependent litigation as the courts try to sort out what rights have been changed, created or eliminated.

Furthermore the press typically discusses courts, especially the Supreme Court in political terms, conservative or liberal. This is not very meaningful. For example, Justice David Souter was nominated by Pres. George Bush Sr, he was and (I presume is) a Republican. I'd be startled to find out that he does not vote the straight party ticket. Politically, he's a conservative fellow. Judicially, he is not a usual ally of Justices Scalia and Thomas. In judicial terms, he's a developmentalist, to a certain extent.

Moral of this entry? Don't believe what you read. The Internet is glorious in that even if you don't want to bother checking the source material, you can check out opinions of persons you trust about the source material.

In my case, that would be Eugene Volokh and his merry band of libertarian law professors.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Nicely written and lucid opinion piece. I find those interesting. Keep them coming when you have the time.