Washington Post Displays Labeling Bias Over Recent Supreme Court Picks

The Washington Post front page for May 27, 2009 announces the Sonia Sotomayor nomination to the Supreme Court with this large headline: "First Latina Picked for Supreme Court; GOP Faces Delicate Task in Opposition." There's no reference to Sotomayor being a liberal.

Below that is a story on her ethnic identity headlined "Heritage Shapes Judge's Perspective." Reporters Amy Goldstein and Jerry Markon notice three paragraphs in that she spoke at a conference "bluntly rejecting the argument of conservative legal thinkers that judges should decide cases purely on close readings of facts and law, excluding their own frames of reference." How did previous Supreme Court nominations do in labeling the ideology of nominees? Unsurprisingly the Post highlighted the conservatism of recent Republican nominees, but placed Democratic nominees in the middle.

Here's a list of Washington Post front-page headlines on the first day after the official nomination that hinted at an ideology:

Samuel Alito (November 1, 2005)

"Alito Nomination Sets Stage for Ideological Battle; Bush's Court Pick Is Appeals Judge With Record of Conservative Rulings"

"Alito Leans Right Where O'Connor Swung Left"

John Roberts (July 20, 2005)

"Bush Chooses Roberts for Court; Appeals Judge for D.C. Has Conservative Credentials"

"A Move To the Right, An Eye to Confirmation"

Stephen Breyer (May 14, 1994)

"Boston Judge Breyer Nominated to High Court; After Long Process, Clinton's Choice of Centrist Likely to Avoid Confirmation Controversy on Hill"

"A Moderate Pragmatist; Nominee Widely Admired in Legal Circles"

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (June 15, 1993)

"Judge Ruth Ginsburg Named to High Court; Clinton's Unexpected Choice Is Women's Rights Pioneer"

"Nominee's Philosophy Seen Strengthening the Center"

Clarence Thomas (July 2, 1991)

"Bush Picks Thomas for Supreme Court; Appeals Court Judge Served as EEOC Chairman in Reagan Administration"

"Self-Made Conservative; Nominee Insists He Be Judged on Merits"

It's perfectly clear that The Washington Post is not a reliable source for discerning the ideological tilt of Democratic court picks in the first hours after a nomination.

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