How to avoid reporting the obvious

marchforlifeSometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying. At least that was my reaction to the historical background section of reporter Scott Shane's story in The New York Times titled "Ideology Serves as a Wild Card on Court Pick."

Here's the big idea. It seems that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. is, in fact, highly qualified to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The problem is not legal, but political.

You see, it seems that battles over nominees have become rather partisan in recent decades. That's right. Honest. Something mysterious happened not that long ago and the train came off the track. Ideology now plays an even greater role than it did in the bitter court battles of the FDR era and the Earl Warren court.

Let's let Shane narrate this:

No nominee has been voted down since Robert H. Bork, President Ronald Reagan's conservative nominee in 1987. ... A statistical model developed by Professor [Lee] Epstein and her colleagues, which incorporates newspaper editorials and other sources, suggests that confirmations have steadily grown more polarized over ideology in recent decades. ...

Ideology "exploded" after the Senate rejected Mr. Bork, Professor Epstein said. The bitterly contested confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee, Anita F. Hill, played out before a rapt national television audience.

To some, the court's role in settling the 2000 presidential election seemed to shatter once and for all any notion that it occupied some antiseptic zone untouched by politics.

Let's see. What crucial judical earthquake is missing from this timeline?

What is the issue that is at the heart of this amazing era in which conservative presidents have had so much trouble getting nominees approved for the high court?

Here's a hint: It was a case decided in 1973. It's a case that's even mentioned, in passing, later in the story for another reason.

I know, I know. But I still want to ask: Why did Shane and the Times copy desk leave out something so obvious?

P.S. Oh, that's right. Offensive free speech about religion is another crucial issue -- as this stronger story in the Times makes clear.

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