Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sloppy Headline - Supreme Court Ruled for But Didn't Back Group Fighting Pebble Mine

Here's a headline from today's ADN:

Alaska Supreme Court backs group fighting Pebble mine 

The Supreme Court is NOT supposed to take sides in cases.   The justices are not supposed to 'back' one side or the other.  They are supposed to make decisions based on the law, not whether they like the one party in the case or another.

To say the Supreme Court 'backs' one party is misleading.  From the Oxford Dictionaries:

verb:  Back

1  Give financial, material, or moral support to: he had a newspaper empire backing him go up there and tell them—I’ll back you up

sponsor, finance, put up the money for, fund, subsidize, underwrite, be a patron of, act as guarantor of informal foot the bill for, pick up the tab for, bankroll, stake

Even when you use the right words, the listener might not understand exactly what you meant.  But when you use the wrong words you give the reader a license to get it wrong. 

The Supreme Court may not back one party or the other.  It can rule in favor of one side, but that rule should be based on the law, not on whether individual judges or the whole court likes one of the parties.   The ruling may be good for one party, one might even say the ruling supports the arguments of one of the parties, but the court itself can't. 

And while one could argue that the ruling gave moral support to the folks opposed to Pebble Mine happy, that isn't the Supreme Court's job.  And that isn't the main meaning of 'to back.'

There's enough political polarization already without the newspaper adding to it by making readers think that the Supreme Court has taken a position on Pebble Mine.  They've taken a position on the law, not the mine.

If, in fact, the court actually made its decision in order to support those opposing the mine and not based on the law, that would be very big news indeed.  People argue the US Supreme Court did that in their 2000 election ruling.  But there is nothing in the ADN article to support that idea here.

From October 2013 Post

I'd note that this brings to a close a huge dispute over the right of private citizens to bring public good lawsuits without the fear of being charged with the lawyers' fees if they lose.

[Reposted because of Feedburner problems]

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