Linda Greenhouse, a Times reporter who has marched for abortion rights and told a Harvard audience that the Bush administration had undertaken a "hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism," has retired after covering the Supreme Court for the paper for almost 30 years. The paper sent her off in grand style, handing her the entire front page of the July 13 Week in Review section. She also took reader questions at nytimes.com, and her answers confirmed what media watchers already knew about her liberal slant.
Greenhouse's views became more widely known after NPR's "All Things Considered" revealed her loathing of all things conservative by playing a speech she gave at Harvard in June 2006 that tore into the Bush administration.
"...our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."
Her long valedictory article on July 13 and online Q&A were couched in less inflammatory terms than her off-the-clock denunciations at Harvard but still left no doubt that Greenhouse's political views slanted leftward - a strange slant that rendered the former ACLU lawyer Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a "centrist" and Anthony Kennedy a sexist (Kennedy upheld a ban on partial-birth-abortion).
Still, she much prefer Kennedy on the court rather than President Reagan's original nominee for the seat, Robert Bork. The left's 1987 assault on Bork, including Ted Kennedy's disgraceful smear ("Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters...") was a harbinger of today's brutal court fights. Yet Greenhouse defended the Senate debate over his nomination:
To the contrary, I thought then and think now that the debate had been both fair and profound. In five days on the witness stand, Judge Bork had a chance to explain himself fully, to describe and defend his view that the Constitution's text and the intent of its 18th-century framers provided the only legitimate tools for constitutional interpretation.
Among the"fair and profound"points raised by Democrats during the hearings were questions about Bork's beard and his "strange lifestyle."
In Greenhouse's tilted worldview, Justice Ginsburg is a voice of centrist reason. Greenhouse explained that unlike the Bork and Thomas nominations, which pushed "beyond the boundaries of the existing political consensus," Bill Clinton's nominee was a centrist pick:
President Clinton played to the center, not the left, in selecting Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, nominations that were well received in the country and that were confirmed unanimously or nearly so.
That's because Republicans didn't go after Ginsburg or Breyer with anything resembling the viciousness the left employed against Borkand Thomas. Greenhouse left out those inconvenient details.
She also detailed her deep affection foranother ultra-liberal Justice, the late William Brennan, whose decisions favored explicit racial quotas, abortion on demand, mandatory school busing, opposition to the death penalty, and the strict separation of church and state:
Obviously, not every opinion Justice Brennan put his name to will stand the test of time. But many will. A personal note - I took some time off from the court beat in the mid-1980's to have a baby and cover Congress for a couple of years. When I came back in 1988, Justice Brennan was 82 and the end of his tenure was in sight. He was one of the first people I ran into, in a court corridor. "I'm glad you're back," he said to me. I replied, "I'm glad you're still here."
But Greenhouse was considerably cooler when asked about Justice Anthony Kennedy, an unpredictable swing voter on the closely divided court. In Greenhouse's ideological hothouse, Kennedy showed a big heart while supporting gay rights, but patronized women with his decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion:
Speaking personally, it's hard to reconcile his capacious understanding of the human condition in his majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 gay rights case, with the patronizing and counter-factual attitude toward women that suffuses his majority opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, last year's so-called partial-birth abortion case .
She also wondered if conservative Chief Justice John Roberts' character flaws could be cured with a little dose of adversity. Last August, after Roberts suffered a seizure, Greenhouse wondered in print whether the incident would make him more compassionate (that is, liberal in his jurisprudence):
...might this encounter with illness even change the way John Roberts sees himself, his job or the world?...Could adversity temper a jurisprudence that critics of the chief justice have discerned as bloodless and unduly distant from the messy reality of the lives of ordinary people who fail to file their appeals on time?
Robert Bork could have used some of that compassion.