Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Coverage of Dissenting Appellate Opinions in the Media

Michael F. Salamone, University of California, Berkeley, Department of Political Science, has published Federal Court Unity and Media Coverage of Racial Integration Cases, as a Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Here is the abstract.
Numerous legal scholars and practitioners, included Earl Warren (Klarman 2004), Charles Evan Hughes (1928), and Learned Hand (1958), have expressed concern that dissenting judicial opinions may damage public opinion of the court and stir resistance to the court majority’s rulings. Though the topic has received little empirical testing overall, a recent study confirms the plausibility of this assertion (Zink, Spriggs, and Scott 2009). However, this potential effect is rendered meaningless if the news media do not convey the courts divisiveness in the first place. Thus, one must ask, how much news coverage do court decisions get? To what degree is the court’s unity or disunity highlighted in these stories? Are dissents associated with more or less media coverage of a case? To begin answering these questions, I present a test case on the local newspaper coverage school desegregation busing cases in the United States Courts of Appeals from 1965 to 1989. By using this case study in this venue, the issue can be held constant across numerous cases in various regions decided with differing levels of unity. The results indicate that these cases are frequently covered, that they do often mention the court’s vote on the ruling, particular when that vote is divided, and that divided opinions are indeed more likely to receive attention from the news media than unanimous opinions are.
Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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