Supreme Court’s Future Barely Noted in Evening News Coverage of Election, Report Says

September 26, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

There’s a fairly decent chance that retirements from the U.S. Supreme Court will give the next president the opportunity to push the high court in a different direction. So one could justifiably expect the high court’s future to be worthy of some consistent and thoughtful election coverage. But according to a new report from Media Matters many major networks’ evening news coverage has provided scant mention of the Supreme Court.

In a Media Matters blog post, Sergio Munoz says the group’s report reveals, “Primetime news has largely overlooked the future ideological direction of the U.S. Supreme Court as a key election issue, failing to note that the candidate who wins in November will likely appoint justices and shape how the court will decide vitally important issues.”

Media Matters reports that evening news broadcasts of CBS and NBC have, since early spring, not touched the subject and that ABC and CNN have only given seconds to the matter. The report shows that only MSNBC’s gaggle of talking heads has provided coverage of the Supreme Court’s future.

Noting the advanced ages of several of the justices, Munoz says the “high likelihood of multiple judicial nominations to the Court for the next president is even more newsworthy in light of the Court’s sharp ideological polarization. Although experts have termed the Court presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts the most conservative in U.S. history, the Court remains sharply split, with many cases decided by a vote of 5-4.”

Regardless of what one tags the current high court – rightwing or right of center – it is arguably one that has become increasingly interested in protecting the concerns of the nation’s most powerful. Yes this includes, but is not limited to, the high court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion.

As law professor William Yeomans writes for The Nation the Roberts Court’s “embrace of business interests” is no accident. He details the corporate campaign to shape the high court. The “final element” of the campaign to shape a corporate friendly Court and one bent on protecting “the 1 percent” has involved the “emergence of a specialized Supreme Court bar that has brought disproportionate expertise in Court litigation to the service of corporate interests.”

And the result is confirmed by a number studies and court watchers noting an increasing win rate for the Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest lobbyist for corporate interests.

But the makeup of courts has never registered very high with voters in many general elections. In this election season with a nation still struggling to recover from the Great Recession and scores of people remaining mired in poverty there are legitimate reasons why the makeup of courts does not click with voters. Or it could be that the media is failing the populace by providing wobbly coverage of this year’s general election, which of course would not be a shocker. The Media Matters’ report, for instance, suggests the majority of nightly news broadcasts are skimping on coverage.