Court Reporter

May 3rd, 2007
About twenty minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a decision, Linda Greenhouse's telephone starts to ring. After two decades of writing about the nation's highest court for the New York Times, Greenhouse has grown accustomed to the barrage of callers offering sound-bite-sized interpretations of the court's rulings.

"In these days of spin and spin control, an important judicial decision will most definitely be spun," said the Pulitzer Prize-winning Greenhouse during the annual Alexander Meiklejohn lecture at Sayles Hall in April.

In a her address titled "Telling the Court's Story: The Role of the Courts as Communicators," Greenhouse argued that the public often misunderstands the Supreme Court's actions because few people understand the "jargon-laden" and "obscure" language of its opinions. Since justices rarely explain the thinking behind their rulings, she said, and do little to clarify possible points of confusion, ordinary citizens are left to decipher - and often misconstrue - the court's intentions.

Which is where reporters like Greenhouse come in: "The court needs to tell its story and also must know that it can't tell its story alone."

A 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner for her Supreme Court coverage, Greenhouse received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Brown in 1991. She has been at the Times since 1968, when she was hired as a news clerk to legendary columnist James Reston.

Not surprisingly, Greenhouse thinks more newspapers and television networks should hire full-time Supreme Court correspondents and should grant them the time and educational support to develop their legal expertise. "Like it or not," she said, "the press is locked in a partnership with the court."

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Related Issue
July / August 2000