Greenhouse effect (United States Supreme Court)

The Greenhouse Effect is a theory of Supreme Court justices’ behavior, first proposed by Hoover Institution economist Thomas Sowell and popularized by D.C. Court of Appeals Senior Judge Laurence Silberman in a speech to The Federalist Society in 1992.[1][2] “Greenhouse” refers to Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times for 40 years. Silberman used the term to postulate a tendency of conservative Supreme Court Justices to vote with the liberals more often as their careers progress due to a desire for favorable press coverage. He said “It seems that the primary objective of The Times’s legal reporters is to put activist heat on recently appointed Supreme Court justices.”[1]

The existence of the Greenhouse Effect has been challenged by some commentators, who note it presumes a “vast, hegemonic liberal control over the media and academia”[3] and question whether professional decision makers who have “come to their views despite years of elite education and exposure to elite opinion” are really so malleable.[4] However, the evidence below suggests that conservative justices become liberal more often than liberals become conservative. Further, the existence of a more general version of the Greenhouse Effect, one not restricted to the media but rather “elites” in general or legal elites, is less controversial. Though this does not show causation, 75% of law professors who began their careers after 1986 identify as liberal, while only 10% identify as conservative.[5] Evidence suggests more “elite” journalists identify as liberal than conservative.[5]

. . . Greenhouse effect (United States Supreme Court) . . .

The Greenhouse Effect refers to Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Supreme Court reporter for over three decades, currently a Senior Fellow at Yale Law School. Greenhouse came under fire from conservatives for publicly espousing liberal viewpoints by participating in a 1989 pro-choice march and in remarks at the Radcliffe Institute in 2006.[6][7][8]

Greenhouse herself commented on the origins of the theory in an interview with NPR:

Ms. Wertheimer: In a 1992 speech to the Federalist Society, Lawrence Silberman, who is an appeals court judge, referred to the greenhouse effect. By which he partly meant you, and he partly meant activist heat, he said, that the Times legal reporters put on recently appointed justices to try to influence their opinions. It certainly did kind of single you out as being an influential player in the world of the court. Ms. Greenhouse: Well, Judge Silberman is giving credit for coming up with that snarky phrase, but actually, he swiped it off from Tom Bethell, the economist, who had put it in a column shortly before.[9]

It is unclear whether Ms. Greenhouse meant to refer to Mr. Bethell or Mr. Sowell. Mr. Bethell, an editor at the American Spectator and another Hoover Institution fellow, started the “Strange New Respect Awards”, which are given to conservatives who have become more liberal.[10] Ms. Greenhouse is said by some to have inspired the award.[11] Mr. Sowell is more often cited as the origin of the name of the theory.

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