This one was good for a laugh. I'm looking through the latest issue of TIME, and there's a section on the Supreme Court. They've got an picture of the current justices with color-coding for where they stand ideologically. Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist are staunch conservatives. Anthony Kennedy is a moderate conservative. They claim O'Connor as neutral, though Kennedy is a little more often the swing vote to make the liberals the majority than O'Connor is (with abortion as the most famous exception, though I think the only recent case when he went with the conservatives was the partial-birth one). Then they list Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Breyer all as moderate liberals and claim that there's no staunch liberal on the court in the mold of Thurgood Marshall "or even Harry Blackmun".
Are the four liberals really more conservative than Blackmun and Marshall, or are they really just more conservative with respect to the general outlook of their time? Blackmun and Marshall did say some pretty radical things for their time, but don't these current four basically assume those things that were radical thirty years ago? Also, is Kennedy really more conservative than O'Connor, or are they letting the abortion issue, the main issue with respect to which she's slightly more liberal, wholly define these two? The standard categorization of three conservatives, two moderates, and four liberals seems much more accuarate to me than trying to make the court look more conservative than it is. There's a statement in the article itself that says if Bush replaces O'Connor with a true conservative, the conservatives will have a "rock-solid majority". No, it will be dead even.
Update: After reading the TIME piece, I proceeded to Newsweek, and I found some interesting statements in comparison with the TIME ones I highlighted above:
She could generally be found in the center -- not of public opinion generally, but of so-called elite opinion, the consensus of the chattering classes that is often to the left of the rest of the country.
That sounds much more accurate to me, perhaps even insightful. There are a few other quotes that seem really strange, however, and I'm not sure they're from the same writer:
In the very same article there was a sidebar that chronicled various votes O'Connor has rendered over the years. The blurb about Bush v. Gore asserts as fact her rumored but unsubstantiated "this is terrible" comment after media first called the election for Gore. What's worse, it states her actual motivation for this without signaling that it's mere speculation. It says the comment was out of fear that a Democratic president would replace her. It didn't talk about what's come out since then about the betting pool Chief Justice Rehnquist holds each presidential election, in which she had bet on Bush winning in 2000.
The same blurb also says that the 5-4 Bush v. Gore split was right along party lines. I'm really trying to figure out how it could be. One way to take that is according to the party of the president who appointed each justice, but then the statement is false. Justice Stevens was nominated by President Ford, who was a Republican, yet his vote was with Gore, the Democratic candidate in 2000. Justice Souter was nominated by the first President Bush, also a Republican, yet his vote went with Gore.
Another way to take it would be according to the actual party of each justice, but is this writer really privy to that information? I doubt it. Maybe Stevens and Souter are Democrats, and O'Connor and Kennedy are Republicans, but I wouldn't assume that for a piece in a magazine of Newsweek's caliber.
That makes me think it's the same blunder as the TIME piece above. By party lines, they mean conservative vs. liberal, which means they see O'Connor and Kennedy as conservatives, which is simply not the case. They're both moderates who end up swing voting with the conservative or liberal camp as the particular case leads them to swing. They're simply treating moderates as conservatives, because these moderates are more conservative than they are. Whoever wrote the main piece was onto something, and whoever wrote this little blurb demonstrated that exact fact.
I can't believe this is the same writer who said she's in the middle of the left-leaning elite. What makes O'Connor seem moderate to most of the elite types is what makes her seem pretty liberal compared to most real moderates but what makes her seem conservative to those on the left side of the elite. Someone working on putting little factoids together for a Newsweek article must be enough left of her to think of her as quite simply a conservative, and some editors shared enough of that perspective not to catch the mistake. This wasn't an intentional act of calling her a conservative, but the perspective slipped through, and no one noticed it because they wouldn't disagree with the perspective.