May 7, 2009

Spotlight on the Supremes

Free Speech, Race Rulings June 24, 07 5.9
DC Gun Ban June 23, 08 5
Right to Hanbeas Corpus June 9, 08 5
Souter to Retire April 27, 09 4.8
Partial Birth Abortion Ban April 15, 08 3
Exxon Valdez, Rape Ruling June 23, 08 2.9

4th – Rank of David Souter’s retirement among top High Court stories.

Even in a busy week that included swine flu, Barack Obama’s 100-day anniversary and the Chrysler bankruptcy, Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s May 1 retirement announcement commanded major attention. Filling 4.8% of the weekly newshole, it was the No. 6 story from April 27-May 3, 2009. A look at other Supreme Court events—some of which made news on their own and some of which triggered bigger policy debates—has the Souter announcement ranking fourth among most-covered Court storylines since PEJ’s News Coverage Index began in January 2007. On that roster of top stories, Souter’s retirement was the only one that did not involve a decision by the Justices.

The biggest week of Supreme Court coverage was June 24-29, 2007, when it made several significant free speech rulings and limited the use of race to determine school placement. Those decisions accounted for 5.8% of the newshole, making it the week’s No. 3 story.  The next biggest story, at 5.0% of the newshole, was coverage of and fallout from the Court’s move to strike down the Washington D.C. gun ban the week of June 23–29, 2008. That proved to be a busy week for coverage as rulings that eliminated the death penalty in child rape cases and decreased punitive damages owed by Exxon for the Valdez controversy filled another 2.9% of the newshole.  

The Supreme Court’s ruling that Guantanamo Bay detainees have a right to challenge their detentions, and the reaction to that decision, accounted for 5.0% of the newshole the week of June 9-15, 2008. And its vote to uphold the ban on partial birth abortions and the subsequent fallout accounted for 3.0% of the coverage from April 15-20, 2007.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ