Patterico's Pontifications

7/20/2005

L.A. Times Predictably Slants Story on Roberts Nomination

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Judiciary — Patterico @ 6:59 am



The L.A. Times burnishes its credentials this morning as a liberal rag, with its banner headline: Bush Leans Right in Court Pick. The sub-head (what I am told is the “deck headline”) reads: “Roberts Has Longtime GOP Ties but a Short Resume as Appellate Judge.”

This confluence of headlines has the effect of portraying the impressive Roberts as an inexperienced partisan hack — an impression reinforced by the beginning of the article, which emphasizes that Roberts “argued conservative positions on abortion and other issues before the high court during his years as a lawyer for Republican administrations” — but has a “limited judicial record.”

Compare the main story in the Washington Post, which is titled Bush Chooses Roberts for Court, with a deck headline that reads: “Appeals Judge for D.C. Has Conservative Credentials.” See how much fairer that sounds? And the first paragraph of that story describes Roberts as “a well-regarded litigator with conservative credentials and friends in both parties.”

It’s a much more balanced picture — but then, the Washington Post is a much better newspaper.

To be fair, the L.A. Times article has some positive things to say about Roberts further down in the article, and an accompanying profile is cautiously positive, describing Roberts as smart and not overly ideological.

This is undoubtedly true — which is why it is doubly distressing to see the paper’s main article struggling so hard in its headline and opening paragraphs to create an impression of Roberts as a callow party apparatchik.

The article sets forth a list of cases decided by Roberts designed to reinforce the picture of him as a strong right-winger. These and other cases will no doubt be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks, but I’d like to focus on one in particular, which I have placed in bold type in the following quote from the story:

As a judge, he has been sympathetic to arguments that wildlife regulations were unconstitutional as applied to a California construction project. He joined in a ruling upholding police trunk searches even when officers did not assert evidence of a crime, and another that said police did not violate the constitutional rights of a 12-year-old girl who was arrested, handcuffed and detained for eating a French fry inside a train station.

There is no serious argument that Roberts’s decision in that case was wrong. He wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. Even People for the American Way, in their brief on Roberts, mounts no argument that Roberts got the law wrong in that case.

So why bring up this case in the story? Because it gives readers a chance to think: “Wow. Roberts favors arresting 12-year-old girls for eating French Fries in train stations? What a jerk!”

There is no hint in the story of how Roberts actually felt about the police arresting a 12-year-old girl for such an offense; the implication is that he approved. Not so. Here is the first paragraph of Roberts’s opinion in that case (all emphasis mine):

No one is very happy about the events that led to this litigation. A twelve-year-old girl was arrested, searched, and handcuffed. Her shoelaces were removed, and she was transported in the windowless rear compartment of a police vehicle to a juvenile processing center, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and detained until released to her mother some three hours later — all for eating a single french fry in a Metrorail station. The child was frightened, embarrassed, and crying throughout the ordeal. The district court described the policies that led to her arrest as “foolish,” and indeed the policies were changed after those responsible endured the sort of publicity reserved for adults who make young girls cry. The question before us, however, is not whether these policies were a bad idea, but whether they violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Like the district court, we conclude that they did not, and accordingly we affirm.

Roberts’s opinion palpably expresses upset at the way the situation was handled. But the only issue for John Roberts the judge was whether the Constitution had been violated. It clearly had not.

[UPDATE: Another quote from the case makes my point even more clearly:

The district court had and we too may have thoughts on the wisdom of this policy choice — it is far from clear that the gains in certainty of notification are worth the youthful trauma and tears — but it is not our place to second-guess such legislative judgments.]

If the L.A. Times is going to bring up a case like this, the paper’s supposed goal of fairness dictates that the article set forth Roberts’s obvious displeasure with the facts of the case. It would have required only a few words to do so. If they didn’t have the space, they should have cut the example entirely, since it has no relevance other than to make Roberts look cold-hearted.

If this is the kind of thing that passes for analysis at the L.A. Times, we’re in for a rough next few weeks.

30 Responses to “L.A. Times Predictably Slants Story on Roberts Nomination”

  1. “This is undoubtedly true — which is why it is doubly distressing to see the paper’s main article struggling so hard in its headline and opening paragraphs to create an impression of Roberts as a callow party apparatchik.”

    It is more accurate to describe him as a party-man than a judge. He has been the former for much longer than the latter. He has much more experience as a hired gun for the party and corporate clients than as a deliberative judge or scholar. A very fair characterization.

    actus (cd484e)

  2. Oh noes! He works for companies!

    Who else do you think can afford lawyers of the Supreme Court’s caliber? You’re reading Moveon.org again, man.

    Angry Clam (f05866)

  3. Can you name a paper (other than the Strib) that is not a much better newspaper than the LAT?

    Rod Stanton (7b6143)

  4. “Who else do you think can afford lawyers of the Supreme Court’s caliber?”

    Who else? The executive branch, the judicial branches (state and federal), law schools, and non-profits. You can tell that by looking at the past experiences of the current court and the current nominee.

    actus (cd484e)

  5. -addendum – OK NYT is also not a fair answer. I mean a real news paper.

    Rod Stanton (7b6143)

  6. Roberts Roundup IIL What the Blogs are Saying

    Comments from selected blogs (if I missed your favorite blog, leave me a comment):

    First, from my own fellow High Country Bloggers (gotta plug HCBA first!):

    Powerpundit:

    Cyber-Conservative (11ee8e)

  7. “So why bring up this case in the story? Because it gives readers a chance to think: “Wow. Roberts favors arresting 12-year-old girls for eating French Fries in train stations? What a jerk!””

    I’ve been wondering if the incident was as simple as the papers make it sound, i.e. some kid was minding her own business, popped a fry in her mouth and suddenly fascist goons in SWAT uniforms are dropping down all around her on nylon ropes.

    I wonder if it went a little differently, i.e. some kid was seen by a metro official with a bag of McD’s who warned her eating was not allowed in that area, at which point the kid smiled, popped a fry in her mouth and said “so what are ya gonna do, arrest me?”. If that was the case, I not only would have dismissed her case, I would have written an unsympathetic finding, saying she got what she deserved. People who screw with the law just to get attention should quickly learn it is not worthwhile.

    But it’s just speculation since I don’t know the exact details…

    Scott (57c0cc)

  8. Actually, the NYT is a much better paper than the LA Times. Worse? Try a San Francisco paper. Or a left-wing British one.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  9. I got the SF Chronicle for three years in the late 1990s and the LA Times for a couple of years immediately after that. I thought the Times was worse.

    Xrlq (5ffe06)

  10. “I’ve been wondering if the incident was as simple as the papers make it sound, i.e. some kid was minding her own business, popped a fry in her mouth and suddenly fascist goons in SWAT uniforms are dropping down all around her on nylon ropes.”

    the DC metro is very fascist about food consumption.

    actus (cd484e)

  11. Yeah…but I’ve been on plenty of transit (el, subway, etc.) where passengers were not following rules (wrt food, music, cellphones, moving between cars, etc.). It definitely has a corrosive effect on the pleasure of your experience or even percieved safety, when people start blowing off the rules.

    TCO (28e474)

  12. […] » Patterico with more on the “french-fry case.” […]

    evolution: the first mammal to make plans (5d4d56)

  13. I think even more people will say “he upholds the law” rather than “what a jerk.” It’s the kind of silly charge that makes Roberts’ opponents (like the LA Times) look petty.

    Eric Lindholm (ae12a1)

  14. Gee, John Carroll abandoned the Titanic this morning. I guess when you’ve hemmoraged the amount of subscribers that the Times has in the last few years, it’s not totally unexpected. What say you Patterico?

    Powder Blue Report

    Allan Bartlett (b09161)

  15. With their recent “all white men” slipup and infatuation with race, I was half expecting today’s Los Angeles Times headline to be:
        Bush Selects White Man over Hispanic for Supreme Court

    Shredstar (91b3b2)

  16. I’m ok with this guy, all I know is what I am reading now; never heard of him before.

    Time will tell, but I hope he will stand up to scrutiny. It would be great if Biden, Kennedy, Boxer et all shot their collective wad trying to damage this guy, and then Bush put up the next candidate and really twist their titties.

    GonzalesFan (cc0eb8)

  17. Regarding the point that Roberts has much more experience as an attorney than a judge, who was it a few days ago that suggested Bush appoint someone other than a judge? If my memory serves me right, it was several Democrats who thought that would be a good idea. I suppose now they’ll make his limited experience as a judge a liability.

    Jackie Warner (95d9f3)

  18. the DC metro is very fascist about food consumption.

    Apparently the word “fascist” is truly devoid of any descriptive meaning now, that being lost to the passage of time, and has become simple invective instead.

    The dumbing down continues.

    ras (f9de13)

  19. And it’s not going to get any better at the Times.

    P.A. Breault (11dd69)

  20. “Who else? The executive branch, the judicial branches (state and federal), law schools, and non-profits. You can tell that by looking at the past experiences of the current court and the current nominee.”

    So are you implying that such people should never enter private practice, because then, horror of horrors, they might sully themselves with the doing of commerce?

    How bourgeois.

    Angry Clam (f05866)

  21. “So are you implying that such people should never enter private practice, because then, horror of horrors, they might sully themselves with the doing of commerce”

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course such people might enter private practice. They also might want to work pro-bono. None of this stops us from fairly characterizing Robert’s career as being spent more in zealous advocate for the party and corporate clients rather than in other fields.

    actus (a5f574)

  22. I agree with you, Patterico, that the opening paragraph is the key, and that it completely refutes the LAT’s pitch (and the identical attack based on this opinion that’s being made by overtly partisan critics). Rather than proving that Roberts is heartless, it proves that he’s capable of basing a decision on the law when his (and anyone’s) heart tugs him in a different direction. I don’t think anyone can pretend to have an informed position about this nominee unless they’ve carefully read that short, conversational paragraph.

    The rest of the opinion is a gem too, though. Its structure and sequence are logical and clear. Its writing is polished but simple. He methodically addresses each main argument presented by either side, and in the process of doing that, reveals himself to be a thinking respecter of precedent and a skeptic about expanding it. It’s the kind of work that will leave the losing party saying, “Dang, I’m sorry I lost, but he gave me a fair shot,” and that will encourage other judges to say, “I don’t have anything to add or quibble with, so I’ll concur fully rather than writing separately.”

    One last nit, re the actual merits and equities of the case: This was an appeal from a summary judgment, through which the district court had dismissed the Hedgespeths’ lawsuit without a trial. Both the district court and the court of appeals were therefore obliged to presume, for purposes of the summary judgment motion and the appeal from its granting, that the girl was absolutely innocent of any aggravating conduct. Judge Roberts didn’t try to spin the facts to make her look bad as a way to justify either the district court’s decision or the DC Circuit panel’s affirming of it. His expression of his personal reaction to the facts and his personal assessment of the policies that led to the arrest is pretty muted, though — and should be, because that’s not what ought to have driven the result, and it wasn’t.

    Beldar (a1e881)

  23. A challenge to Dahlia Lithwick

    From something you wrote today (boldface mine, link in original): [Judge John Roberts] doesn’t appear to be crusading for a wholesale national retreat to the good old days of executing miscreant ‘tweens (although he seemingly finds arresting them for…

    BeldarBlog (af7df9)

  24. […] The link is to an L.A. Times article I criticized yesterday for making it sound like Roberts approved of arresting a 12-year-old girl for eating a French Fry. I noted that anyone who actually bothers to read the opinion will plainly see that Roberts was unhappy that police arrested the girl. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Dahlia Lithwick: Dishonest or Utterly Useless (421107)

  25. While I don’t dispute the L.A. Times’ liberal slant, you add your own slant by neglecting to mention that all the copy you present from the opinion was also printed in the Times alongside the article. I appreciated the Times’ inclusion of the opinion text so that I could enjoy Roberts’ careful reasoning in this case.

    Anon (3e7653)

  26. Now the WaPo is siccing its fashion editor on Judge Roberts. I guess she thinks that Roberts should not be confirmed because his kids wear pastel colors and saddle shoes.

    If this is the best they have, Roberts is a shoo-in.

    Mike D in SC (31e447)

  27. John Roberts Supreme Court (Partial) Roundup and Thoughts Friday

    Patterico and Pejmanesque double team the LA Times f…

    Searchlight Crusade (11ee8e)

  28. When your newspaper of record is less fair than The Washington Post, you know that you’ve got a good candidate for lining bird cages.

    Dana R. Pico (8d0335)

  29. Georgetown Law Prof. Peter Rubin distorts Judge Roberts’ opinion in the Hedgepeth “french fry case”

    My faithful readers will no doubt conclude that I’ve become obsessed with U.S. Circuit Judge (and SCOTUS Associate Justice-nominee) John G. Roberts, Jr.’s opinion for a unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit in the french fry on the Metro ca…

    BeldarBlog (af7df9)


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