Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't trust headlines about the Supreme Court

A news story today shows the problem with summarizing Supreme Court decisions based on the surface facts.  The headline reads:  "Court won't hear anti-gay marriage group appeal".  However, on reading the article, the court didn't decide anything about gay marriage.  Instead it rejected the appeal of a campaign finance law in Maine.  The proper headline should have read "Court won't hear appeal of Maine campaign donor disclosure law".

The case involves a Maine law requires "groups that raise or spend more than $5000 to influence elections to register and disclose donors."  The anti-gay marriage group did not want to disclose its donor list.  So this is a campaign finance decision, not a marriage decision.

This type of deceptive headline shows up several times a year.  The Supreme Court decides a case on some technicality unrelated to the primary issue, but the news media looks at it as a decision based on the primary issue rather than the technicality.

I'm sure justices are sometimes swayed by the issue behind some technicality they are deciding, but having spent over 15 years following the court's decisions, this is not normally the case.

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