For three decades, Linda Greenhouse reported on the U.S. Supreme Court for the New York Times. A week after retiring from that post to go on to Yale Law School, she spoke about the court at the Chilmark Library on Martha's Vineyard.
The event was standing room only -- those who had attended both were pleased to conclude that Greenhouse had proved even a bigger draw than Professor Alan Dershowitz advocating for U.S. torture several weeks before.
It hadn't required retirement for attentive consumers of news to discover that Greenhouse had some sensible opinions about what she was covering. Back in 2006, NPR reported some remarks from a speech.
For this candor, she got a reprimand from the New York Times Public Editor. The Times doesn't seem to mind reporters who pimp for C.I.A. assets, but doesn't look kindly on remarking the Emperor's nakedness.
In her Chilmark talk, Greenhouse amplified some of the themes she had explored in a review article and for readers of a Times blog.
- On "preference drift": In the blog discussion, she endorsed the suggestion from political scientists that new justices whose previous experience had been outside the beltway -- in the executive, and especially the Department of Justice -- were more likely to change their opinions than Washington insiders. In the talk, she suggested that she could see differences between George W. Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito that suggested they might have slightly difference trajectories as justices. Roberts, coming out of the Reagan and Bush I Justice Departments, "thinks like an advocate, as if he still had a case to win." Alito is a very conservative figure, but he seems to think more like the judge he was previously and, she thinks, might be more likely to change somewhat in office.
- On "swing" Justice Anthony Kennedy: She finds him a little mystifying, she wrote in her article.
- On the court and evolving public opinion. In her article, she described the interplay of the people and the ultimate arbiter of legality this way: