Bench Memos

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The “Most Conservative in Decades” Nonsense


I was going to weigh in with a long blog post about yesterday’s NYT front-pager and what a mind-numbing waste of ink it was–but Ed Whelan got there before me and said most of what is worth saying.  I have vented my spleen at length in the past about the work my more statistically-minded political science colleagues do on the Supreme Court.  Most recently I did so, in passing, here.  The “coding” of cases; the equation of “activism” with any pattern of invalidating laws or overturning precedents; the facile equation of politically-favored or -disfavored outcomes with ideologically-driven behavior; the scanting of historical context and the drift of jurisprudential patterns; the obliviousness to legal reasoning and the question of its soundness–all of these add up to an effort by many political scientists, over the last half century, to make themselves, their students, and the general public dumber about the Supreme Court and its work.  For the most part they have only succeeded with themselves, and not, thank goodness, with their students or the general public.  In the case of the New York Times, they appear to have achieved a partial success.

The most amusing part of the Times’ feature yesterday was the online survey, inviting readers to find out how much their own views are in synch with those of the Supreme Court on a half dozen issues.  Go take the questionnaire, just to read the idiotic questions.  They could not possibly have been written by anyone who is accustomed to think in legal or constitutional categories.  And therefore the survey is useless for any citizen who is even half-informed about such things.  But it’s good enough for the Times!


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