Few people outside certain specialized sectors of the press and the legal profession have any particular reason to read the increasingly voluminous opinions through which the Justices of the Supreme Court explain their interpretations of the Constitution and laws. Most of what the public knows about the Supreme Court necessarily comes from the press. That fact raises questions of considerable importance to the functioning of our constitutional democracy: How, for example, does the press describe the work of the Supreme Court? And has the way in which the press describes the work of the Court changed over the past several decades?
This Article seeks to address those questions by comparing the print media coverage of two highly salient cases involving similar legal issues decided fifty years apart. Our study suggests that, at least in highly salient cases, the nature of print media coverage may well have changed dramatically during that fifty-year interval. More specifically, our study suggests that while the mid-twentieth century press described the Court’s decisions largely in terms of the legal questions presented, the contemporary press seems more likely to describe the Court’s decisions in non-legal terms—as something resembling a spectacle, in which unelected judges are presumed to decide cases, not on properly contested legal grounds, but based on their respective political commitments.