Heather Mac Donald on Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick got her start in Slate with the innovation of covering the Supreme Court almost entirely in terms of what jokes were told at the oral argument. Now, gossipy legal humor has entertainment value, and Lithwick’s essays had a legitimate role in the context of providing added value for an Internet magazine whose main advantage over competing media sources was the ability to put writing out there in a breezier and quicker fashion than a newspaper. But the legal analysis was often slipshod, and Lithwick would freely admit her ignorance and instead focus on which Supreme Court Justice she’d most like to hug or the build of the lawyers. Yet Lithwick has parlayed being the Slate “Supreme Court correspondent” into a regular gig doing serious analysis and op-eds in purportedly more serious media outlets. The results often aren’t pretty. Heather Mac Donald puts her thumb precisely on the problem and points out how vapid Lithwick’s analysis of Justice O’Connor’s career is (via Point of Law). Lithwick makes the mistake of criticizing O’Connor’s decisions as lacking sufficient empathy for the sympathetic losing party (though, as Mac Donald points out, Lithwick’s sympathy is inconsistent within the same paragraph in the op-ed). Legal reporting all too often has the flaw of describing cases as a question of picking the most deserving winner, divorcing this question from the real issue of the neutral application of legal rules; this is a problem that all too often trickles down to some judges and jury decisions. And it’s a sad commentary on the state of legal education when a Stanford Law graduate doesn’t give any signs of knowing better.


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