NYT Reporter Linda Greenhouse Winces at 'Splintered' Conservative Court Decisions

Tuesday's New York Times led with the Supreme Court ruling, by a vote of 6-3, to uphold an Indiana law, favored by conservatives, requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Huffy Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse called it a "splintered decision," apparently code for close decisions she doesn't approve of. (See here for more journalistic "splintering.")Update: Greenhouse responds (see below fold):

You seem to be having semantic difficulty. A splintered decision is one in which there are not five members of the court willing to sign onto a majority opinion -- e.g. the Indiana voter ID case. This happens these days only when conservatives are controlling the decision, because if the liberals splinter, there are not enough of them to start with, and they simply lose the case. Get it?

From Greenhouse's Tuesday piece:

The Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter identification law on Monday, concluding in a splintered decision that the challengers failed to prove that the law's photo ID requirement placed an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

The 6-to-3 ruling kept the door open to future lawsuits that provided more evidence. But this theoretical possibility was small comfort to the dissenters or to critics of voter ID laws, who predicted that a more likely outcome than successful lawsuits would be the spread of measures that would keep some legitimate would-be voters from the polls. Voting experts said the ruling was likely to complicate election administration, leading to both more litigation and more legislation, at least in states with Republican legislative majorities, but would probably have a limited impact on this year's presidential voting.

A Nexis search shows Greenhouse has used the term "splintered" three times in the last three years, in each case referring to a decision supported by conservatives. An attempt, unconsciously or not, to minimize a conservative court victory by emphasizing its fractious nature? Judge for yourself:

June 25, 2007: "The Supreme Court on Monday took a sharp turn away from campaign finance regulation, opening a wide exception to the advertising restrictions that it upheld when the McCain-Feingold law first came before it four years ago. In a splintered 5-to-4 decision..."July 2, 2006: "A splintered decision rejected a challenge to the Republican-driven mid-decade redistricting of Texas's Congressional map, finding that it was not an impermissible partisan gerrymander."June 27, 2006: "Vermont's limits on campaign contributions and on campaign spending by candidates are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a splintered 6-to-3 decision suggesting that efforts to limit the role of money in politics might face considerable resistance in the Roberts court."

By contrast, Greenhouse's story of June 30, 2006 on a close liberal ruling found no "splintering," but instead a "sweeping and categorical defeat for the administration." Over the headline, "Justices, 5-3, Broadly Reject Bush Plan to Try Detainees," Greenhouse gushed:

The Supreme Court on Thursday repudiated the Bush administration's plan to put Guantánamo detainees on trial before military commissions, ruling broadly that the commissions were unauthorized by federal statute and violated international law....The decision was such a sweeping and categorical defeat for the administration that it left human rights lawyers who have pressed this and other cases on behalf of Guantánamo detainees almost speechless with surprise and delight, using words like "fantastic," "amazing" and "remarkable."

On the PBS program Washington Week program of September 28, 2007, Greenhouse indicated she found Indiana's plan "objectionable."

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.