Monday, November 07, 2005

Cases mentioned in Alito coverage

Number of articles appearing in "Major Papers" discussing cases involving Judge Samuel Alito.

When discussing legal issues, news coverage has focused overwhelmingly on abortion cases in reporting on Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. In the week since Alito was nominated, 79 articles discussed Alito's position in relation to Roe v. Wade, with 70 articles discussing Alito's position in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The next most mentioned Alito opinion appeared in only 10 articles. That case, United States v. Rybar, involved issues of federalism in regulating gun sales. The fourth most mentioned case, Bray v. Marriott Hotels, appeared 7 times and involved employment discrimination. No other case was mentioned in more than four articles.

During this period, 10/31-11/6, a total of 528 articles appeared in the Lexis/Nexis "Major papers" database. Of these, only 92 (17.4%) discussed specific cases in which Judge Alito was involved. An additional 50 (9.5%) articles mentioned Roe v. Wade but no other case involving Alito. The remaining 386 (73.1%) articles on the Alito nomination failed to mention any case by name. It is possible that some of these 386 articles discussed the substance of cases without naming the case. To the extent this is widely true, the estimates here will understate the prominence of cases in the coverage.

The disproportionate coverage of abortion related cases reflects the emphasis that both conservative and liberal groups have placed on the Roe decision as a factor in Supreme Court nominations. It probably also mirrors the public's limited awareness of issues before the Court with the exception of the most highly visible cases, of which Roe is the premier example.

Nonetheless, the reporting demonstrates a very narrow appreciation by reporters of the legal issues that are relevant to the Court and to the appointment process. While the public appetite for detailed legal analysis may be limited, the press is falling short in informing the public on the range of issues which define the differences between judicial conservatives and judicial liberals. Instead, the differences are reduced to abortion and only occassional mentions of other issues.

Data: The data are a result of a search of the Lexis/Nexis "Major Papers" database, covering 89 mostly US sources. The search terms used were distinctive parts of case names, rather than the full formal name. Thus "Casey" rather than "Planned Parenthood v. Casey". The list of searched cases was developed by examining all articles that appeared to cite a case (as determined by a search for " v. " or " v ". The list of cases is as follows, with the number of articles found in parentheses.

United States v. Allegheny Ludlam (1)
Baker v. Monroe Township (1)
Blackhawk v. Pennsylvania (1)
Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development (1)
Cruz v. Chesapeake Shipping (1)
D.R. v. Middle Bucks Vocational Technical School (1)
Doe v. Groody (1)
United States v. Igbonwa (1)
Pennsylvania Coal Association v. Bruce Babbitt (1)
Public Interest Research Group v. Magnesium Elektron (1)
Saxe v. State College Area School District (1)
Specter v. Garrett (1)
W. R. Grace v. EPA (1)
Zubi v. AT&T (2)
Child Evangelism Fellowship of NJ v. Stafford Township School (3)
Fraternal Order of Police v. Newark (3)
Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center v. Knoll (4)
Planned Parenthood v. Farmer (4)
ACLU v. Schundler (4)
Sheridan v. E. I. Du Pont de Nemours (4)
Bray v. Marriott Hotels (7)
United State v. Rybar (10)
Planned Parenthood v. Casey (70)
Roe v. Wade (79) Posted by Picasa