Papers Play Up 'Bold' Turn to the Right at High Court, Suggest Sotomayor Can't Stop the Tide

The Washington Post and New York Times published similar Supreme Court "analysis" pieces on their front pages Wednesday offering the theme that the court under Chief Justice John Roberts is moving boldly to the right, and the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor will have no effect on this bold shift. It sounded like two newspapers trying to cool down the controversy over judicial liberalism as the Sotomayor hearings approach.

The Post headline was "Term Saw High Court Move to the Right: Roberts-Led March Likely to Continue." Reporter Robert Barnes argued:

The court's term avoided the blockbuster decisions that at one point seemed inevitable. But its path was clear: a patient and steady move to the right led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., one that is likely to continue even if President Obama is successful in adding Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the high court - and perhaps two others like her.

While conservatives were unhappy with the incrementalism of some Roberts opinions, Barnes wrote:

And others see the court's conservatives as merely patient. Roberts is 54, Alito 59, Thomas 61, Kennedy 72, Scalia 73. Stevens, however, will turn 90 during the court's next term; Ginsburg is 76. "The jurisprudence of actuarialism," [liberal blogger Tom] Goldstein calls it. Even if Obama serves two terms, he may not be able to replace one of the conservative justices with a liberal, the move that would really change the court's dynamic.

"This court can afford to be quite patient," Goldstein said. "It will get there eventually."

The Times headline was "The Roberts Court, Tipped by Kennedy." Reporter Adam Liptak insisted Roberts "emerged as a canny strategist at the Supreme Court this term, laying the groundwork for bold changes that could take the court to the right even as the recent elections moved the nation to the left."

Liptak described departing Justice David Souter as "liberal," and suggested the same would apply to Sotomayor: "Her record on the federal appeals court in New York suggests that her views are largely in sync with those of Justice Souter, though there is some evidence that she will turn out to be more conservative in criminal cases."

But "The arrival of a neophyte justice coupled with Chief Justice Roberts's increasing mastery of the judicial machinery foreshadow a widening gap between the Democratic-led political branches and the Supreme Court. Indeed, the court appears poised to move to the right in the Obama era."

- Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.