Behind a Big Supreme Court Case

Friday, March 22, 2013


In the next couple of months the Supreme Court will issue a decision in the case of Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. The case may determine the future of Affirmative Action, but news coverage that centers on the sympathetic plaintiff in the case misses a fascinating back story. Bob talks with ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones about the case.


Nikole Hannah-Jones

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [7]

Dan from Albion, IA

Your report implied that something underhanded went on when the young lady was approached to be the face of this case. Come on! There's nothing new here; it's been happening for a long time now. Didn't the pro-abortion supporters seek-out a litigant to be the face of Roe v. Wade?

Mar. 28 2013 08:14 AM
Also from WI

I had the same reaction to the mentions of "reverse discrimination" as did Steve from Trevor, so much so that I was distracted by it. Are we to infer that the discrimination is practiced only by Caucasians? It's a term that deserved a quick demise the moment it was first uttered.

Another point: Discrimination is discrimination, even if you give it an innocuous label like "affirmative action". If the goal is to treat everyone equally, then let's treat everyone equally.

Mar. 25 2013 12:53 PM
ValdaVin from suburan USA

Looks like we have yet another Republican poster-child fail.

I want to know if the press corps will ever learn from them. Somewhere some K-street astroturfing Tea Party group is hand-picking a nobody to make into next failed cause celebre. Will this be greeted with any more skepticism when it matters---at the onset---than Joe The Plumber or Abigail Fisher?

Mar. 25 2013 10:13 AM
sandra m

There are numerous kinds of affirmative action used in determining college admission, yet none other than the one based on race is ever scrutinized. The largest affirmative action program in higher education favors the rich and well-connected. And its ramifications-including a "C" student who became U.S. President-means that it deserves equal time (see this review of AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR THE RICH The NAACP has promised to go after affirmative action for the rich if race-based affirmative action is struck down.

Mar. 24 2013 08:32 PM

The next time that Ira Glass asks for some tangible proof of NPR’s left-wing bias, I hope someone will supply him with the link to this page.

Ira won’t like it.

The device of using the personal stories of individual plaintiffs in important civil litigation is a favorite of NPR producers. They love it. At least, they love to employ it when the subject of the litigation is a progressive cause.

The classic example of one of NPR’s more-favored plaintiffs is the case of Lilly Ledbetter. She sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for gender discrimination in her employment. After Lilly Ledbetter’s case went to the Supreme Court and she lost, the progressive blogosphere exploded with outrage, and the election of Barack Obama in 2008 with a super-majority Democratic Congress resulted in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

A search of turns up more than 40 stories referencing “Lilly Ledbetter.” Many of them are loaded with the personal details of her story. A typical story was the one done by Nina Totenberg, who took time away from her Supreme Court beat to do the Ledbetter personal story in connection with the post-litigation legislation:

Indeed, the entire Democratic Party made Lilly Ledbetter’s personal litigation story a centerpiece. She was a convention speaker, she was featured in campaign videos, and she was a public radio fixture.

What NPR listeners almost never got was the counter-story about the Lilly Ledbetter case. The Supreme Court decision against Ms. Ledbetter was carefully justified by Victoria Toensing in the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal:

There’s another close corollary, which exposes the disparate treatment NPR give to these stories. Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter were the two lead plaintiffs in litigation over admissions policies at the University of Michigan. At the time the case was argued and later decided by the Supreme Court (a mixed decision in which Jennifer Gratz was found to have been wrongfully denied undergraduate admission and Barbara Grutter’s law school rejection was found to have been legal), NPR did no personal stories on the two lead plaintiffs. Years later, in a story on the historic progress of affirmative action policies, Jennifer Gratz was featured in a story, which was not particularly personal, nor was it overly sympathetic to her. (I regard the story as having been fairly well balanced, something no one could say about NPR’s cheerleading for Lilly Ledbetter.)

So when Bob Garfield threw out the acknowledgment that the left has long favored the device of the attractive plaintiff, and went back to Oliver Brown (he of Brown v. Board of Education fame), Bob skipped over dozens of more recent examples, all of them favored by and through National Public Radio.

Mar. 24 2013 05:20 PM

So in a "progressive" cause the "sympathetic plaintiffs" are inspiring and heroic and any criticism of them will get a barrage of demagoguery yet in a conservative cause the plaintiffs are considered manufactured props and the media has license to question their motives and their supporters?

The real question is what motivates much of the media to enthusiastically embrace and defend some figures (Cindy Sheenan, Sandra Fluke, Lilly Ledbetter) but cynically question and closely investigate others and the agendas of those who support them?

Perhaps honest self evaluation like that may increase trust in the news media and encourage the public to start paying for what they produce.

Mar. 24 2013 10:54 AM
Steve from Trevor, WI.

I enjoyed listening to the report on the Texas discrimination case, but on thing about the report really bothered me. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination. Either something is disciminatory or it isn't. Rather ironic you used such a term in a report on this subject.

Mar. 23 2013 05:04 PM

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