When the Las Vegas Democratic Presidential debate turned to the topic of judicial nominations, moderator Wolf Blitzer and CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux fell into a familiar trap. Audience member Lashannon Spencer asked each candidate how they would choose Supreme Court nominees and to explain "what qualities must the appointee possess." Although the question begs for a multi-faceted response, Blitzer and Malveaux quickly turned the question into a narrow discussion focused on abortion. In doing so, they perpetuated a problem that has been playing out in the media for years.
Of course hot-button issues such as reproductive and gay rights are important topics that deserve careful consideration. However, in implying that these are the only issues that come before the court, reporters fall into a trap set by ultra-conservatives. A 2007 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that education, the environment, and national security were all viewed as more important to voters than a candidate's views on abortion. In addition, only a small percentage of cases decided by the federal courts involve abortion or gay rights, while a much larger percentage effect environmental and consumer protections, as well as worker's and civil rights.
For years ultra-conservatives have used judges as opportunities to galvanize their base, focusing only on issues such as abortion and gay rights. Conservatives would like nothing more than to center election debates and judicial confirmations solely around these hot-button issues. The media does the American people a disservice when it perpetuates this single minded approach to judicial selection.
In their next term alone the Supreme Court will decide cases pertaining to military tribunals, the death penalty, federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, voter identification laws, and the regulation of pornography. From this point on, the dialogue must reflect the breadth of issues that judges affect when appointed to the federal bench.