Sunday, July 03, 2005

Hoping to make my newspaper the best it can be

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:49 PM |  

Given the timing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor's retirement announcement and the 4th of July holiday production schedule for newspapers (not to mention vacation schedules), I’ll cut the Pioneer Press some slack for the ideologically slanted assessment of Justice O’Connor in today’s paper.

Despite not always agreeing with Justice O’Connor, I hold her in very high regard. She was, more than any other justice on the court, the person most concerned with first and foremost getting the case before the court right -- before looking for the political legacy -- which accounts for much of her “swing vote” reputation.

Whether one agrees with her decisions or not, her interpretations of “neutrality” as means of interpreting whether an action is constitutional or not will have long-standing influence on future court decisions.

The Pioneer Press today took the obvious and insightless tack of marking O’Connor’s career by the fact that she was a woman (no mention, of course, that she was appointed by President Regean) and highlighted her left-leaning decisions.

O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, understood the burden of scrutiny, saying many times that she was Everywoman as a well as a judge. And as that Everywoman, and an outgoing one at that, O'Connor's life experiences expanded the view of the court, just as diversity should in the larger society. The test of this is in the law of the land—on reasonable affirmative action, on disability rights, on limited abortion rights.
Besides being obtusely insulting to a woman that noted gender has no role in interpreting the law, the Pioneer Press cites only liberal examples of O’Connor’s application of the law. Notable through exception are her “swing vote” with the majority in Bush v Gore and her vote with the majority in the Zelman case, which upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program including the use of vouchers at religious schools.

The Zelman case, and especially O'Connor's concurring opinion, is one of the key cases in establishing neutrality doctrine -- where a government voucher program is neutral with respect to religion, and provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice, the program doesnot violate the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause.

Unfortunately, the Pioneer Press editorial board -- or at least today's editorialist -- failed to demonstrate the objective centrism for which it ostensibly praised Justice O’Connor.

UPDATE: As expected, the Strib takes a left-leaning view of O'Connor as well. But is that really a surprise? At least the Strib mentions President Reagan, even if only to cast O'Conner as a "disappointment" for conservatives. I love Strib’s linguistic non-subtitles --
Despite her own generally conservative outlook and being named to the court by President Ronald Reagan, she was also considered open-minded . . .
O'Connor's retirement gives Bush the opportunity, which he will surely take, to bolster the conservative bloc on the court.
The Strib praised O’Connor for understanding “entirely her life's task: preserving the Constitution from political hijacking.” Too bad the Strib -- and for that matter the Pioneer Press -- didn’t heed her example.