The Court’s decisions are interpreted and disseminated via the media. During this process, the media paints an image of the Court and its business. Like any artist, the media has license regarding what to cover and the amount of attention devoted to any aspect of the Court and its business. Some cases receive tremendous attention, while others languish on the back pages or are ignored. These selection effects create a skewed picture of the Court and its work, and might affect public attitudes toward the Court. Indeed, studies of media coverage of other governmental institutions reveal that when, and how, their policy decisions are covered has implications for the public’s understanding of, compliance with, support for, and cynicism about the policy.
This book uncovers and describes this coverage and compares it to the confirmation hearings, the Court’s actual work, even its members. Rorie Spill Solberg and Eric N. Waltenburg analyze media coverage of nominations and confirmation hearings, the justices’ "extra-curricular" activities and their retirements/deaths, and the Court’s opinions, and compare this coverage to analyses of confirmation transcripts and the Court’s full docket. Solberg and Waltenburg contend that media now cover the Court and its personnel more similarly to its coverage of other political institutions. Journalists still regurgitate a mythology supported by the justices, a "cult of the robe," wherein unbiased and apolitical judges mechanically base their decisions upon the law and the Constitution. Furthermore, they argue the media also focus on the "cult of personality," wherein the media emphasize certain attributes of the justices and their work to match the public’s preferences for subject matter and content. The media’s portrayal, then, may undercut the Court’s legitimacy and its reservoir of good will.