WSJ's SCOTUS Reporter Bravin: Gay Marriage Cases 'Historic' '5-4 Rulings' But VRA Case 'Ideologically Divided'

The Wall Street Journal may be best-known for its conservative editorial page, but its ostensibly objective reporters are a far different story. Take Jess Bravin, the Journal's Supreme Court correspondent, and his wildly different takes on the Voting Rights Act case vs. the gay marriage cases.

Although all those cases were 5-4 decisions and although each of them involved overturning or invalidating legislation enacted overwhelmingly on a bipartisan vote in Congress or, in the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, by the voters of the State of California, Bravin predictably followed the liberal script in how he framed the outcomes.


Here are the first two paragraphs from Bravin's page A1 Thursday article, "Historic Win for Gay Marriage":

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court dramatically advanced gay rights Wednesday in rulings that direct the federal government to provide equal treatment to same-sex spouses and allow the resumption of gay marriages in California.

In a pair of 5-4 rulings on the final day of the court's term, the justices struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to gay couples married under state law, and let stand a ruling that found Proposition 8, a 2008 voter initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California, unconstitutional.

While those cases are legally and historically significant, they are far from groundbreaking, particularly Hollingsworth, in which the Court said that the petitioner lacked standing to sue in federal courts. But as Family Research Council's Ken Klukowski explained in a piece at Breitbart, the ruling actually did not invalidate Proposition 8 and "litigation [in state courts to invalidate Prop 8] could take years."

Now let's look at a day earlier, and how Bravin opened his report, "Court Upends Voting Rights Act,"on the Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder (emphasis mine)

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court nullified a core provision of the Voting Rights Act in an ideologically divided ruling that eroded a landmark of the civil-rights era and threw the issue into the lap of a gridlocked Congress.

In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said Jim-Crow era discrimination no longer justified requiring a group of mostly Southern states to seek Washington's approval before changing election practices. Joined by the court's other conservatives, he said the court had to act to uphold states' sovereignty, sparking a dissent from liberals who said the ruling would undermine progress made since the law was passed in 1965 to ensure fair treatment at the polls.

Of course, the Voting Rights Act remains on the books and the Supreme Court gave Congress a road map about how to restore teeth to the preclearance provisions. What's more, section 2 of the VRA remains and under it, anyone with standing can sue a state or locality for voting rights violations in federal court. The Department of Justice can also vigorously enforce section 2.

As the official website for the U.S. Department of Justice notes, "The United States has brought numerous cases to enforce the guarantees of Section 2, both before and after its 1982 amendment." On top of that, "The United States engaged in other Section 2 enforcement activities" short of filing a formal lawsuit.

By contrast, the Defense of Marriage Act's section 3, which simply provided the federal definition for the term "marriage" in the U.S. Code, was completely tossed asunder. It reads as follows:

"In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

DOMA was about defining "marriage" for purposes of U.S. law, not "discriminating" against gay individuals.

One more note in closing. The bias wasn't constrained to words on the page though. In Wednesday's print edition, Journal editors included a photo of one "Edriss Montrose," a black man, "[waiting] to vote early last October in Florida, a state in which five counties needed preclearance for changes in election practices."

In Thursday's article, by contrast, the photo accompanying the story showed "Plaintiffs in the California Proposition 8 case react[ing] to the decision on the steps of the Supreme Court."

In the online version, a photo from an accompanying video report was captioned, "At the U.S. Supreme Court, a crowd almost entirely comprising same-sex marriage supporters got the news they wanted: DOMA ruled unconstitutional by a vote of 5-4 and and the way cleared for gay marriage in California."

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. Jess Bravin and his editors are guilty of two counts of biased reporting.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters