Greenhouse was born in New York City to H. Robert Greenhouse and Dorothy (née Greenlick). She received her BA degree in government from Radcliffe College in 1968, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her Master of Studies in Law from Yale Law School in 1978.
Greenhouse began her 40-year career at The New York Times covering state government in the paper's bureau in Albany. After completing her Master's degree on a Ford Foundation fellowship, she returned to the Times and covered 29 sessions of the Supreme Court from 1978 to 2007, with the exception of two years during the mid-1980s during which she covered Congress. Since 1981, she has authored over 2,800 articles for The New York Times. She has been a regular guest on the PBS program Washington Week.
In 2008, Greenhouse accepted an offer from The Times for an early retirement at the end of the Supreme Court session in the summer of 2008. Seven of the nine sitting Justices attended a goodbye party for Greenhouse on June 12, 2008. She continues to blog for The Times in the "Opinionator" section.
In 2010, Greenhouse and co-author Reva Siegel put out a book on the development of the abortion debate prior to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on the subject: Before Roe v. Wade. This was largely a selection of primary documents, though with some commentary.
Greenhouse criticized US policies and actions at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Haditha in a 2006 speech at Harvard University. In it, Greenhouse said she started crying a few years back at a Simon & Garfunkel concert because her generation hadn't done a better job of running the country than previous generations.
Greenhouse was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism (Beat Reporting) in 1998 "for her consistently illuminating coverage of the United States Supreme Court." In 2004, she received the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism and the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. She was a Radcliffe Institute Medal winner in 2006.
When she was at Radcliffe, she said in a speech given in 2006, "I was the Harvard stringer for the Boston Herald, which regularly printed, and paid me for, my accounts of student unrest and other newsworthy events at Harvard. But when it came time during my senior year to look for a job in journalism, the Herald would not even give me an interview, and neither would the Boston Globe, because these newspapers had no interest in hiring women."
Some critics, notably retired conservative Appeals Court Judge Laurence H. Silberman, have complained of what they call the "Greenhouse Effect". They suggest that some federal judges have changed their opinions to win favorable coverage, either in the New York Times or in the legal press in general, which they view as being part of the "Liberal Establishment". This criticism seems directed less at Greenhouse personally than to be a general assertion of a liberal media bias.
Greenhouse has expressed her personal views as an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and critic of conservative religious values, and she has been criticized for not maintaining an appearance of objective neutrality on such matters, although the New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent said that he has never received a single complaint of bias in Greenhouse's coverage. In 1989, she was rebuked by Times editors for participating in an abortion-rights rally in Washington.
On August 9, 2007, a television crew from C-SPAN was forbidden to film a panel discussion at a meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Greenhouse had told organizers that she would not be able answer questions as fully and frankly if the session were filmed. The vice president of programming at C-SPAN, Terence Murphy, questioned the decision: "If professors of journalism and working journalists taking part in a journalism education conference don’t stand up for open media access to public policy discussions, who will?”
Ed Whelan, writing in a blog associated with National Review, suggested that Greenhouse had an obligation to her readers to inform them when reporting on a Supreme Court case that her husband Eugene Fidell had submitted an amicus brief: He had submitted an amicus brief in the Hamdan case. Fidell also submitted an amicus brief in the Boumediene case when it was at the D.C. Circuit level before it went to the Supreme Court. Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the New York Times at the time, opined that the paper "should have clued in readers" to Greenhouse's conflict, but defended the neutrality of her coverage.
Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate magazine, complained that the New York Times "had failed to stand up" for Greenhouse and defended Greenhouse from Whelan's criticism. They quoted Yale Law School professor Judith Resnik who pointed out that Whelan had been unable to point to any actual sign of bias.
Unable to point to any actual bias, Whelan resorts to the petulant claim that the effect of Fidell's involvement in the detainee cases "would be impossible to separate … from the broader political bias that pervades so much of Greenhouse's reporting".
In a rebuttal in the National Review, Whelan asserted both that Bazelon and Lithwick had resorted to "baseless ad hominem attacks and to (literally) catty comments about 'right-wing kitty cats.'" He then refutes the claim that he did not provide any actual examples of bias, and points readers to a previous article in his series on Greenhouse's alleged conflict of interest.Greenhouse, Linda (2005). Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-8057-0.
Greenhouse, Linda (March 2004). ""Because We Are Final" Judicial Review Two Hundred Years After Marbury" (PDF). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 148 (1): 38. Retrieved March 18, 2011.
Greenhouse, Linda; Segal, Reva (2011). Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court's Ruling. New York: Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60978-663-2.