Legal Blog Seeks Recognition from High Court
One of the most influential news outlets covering the Supreme Court sets up shop on big decision days not in the pressroom with other reporters, but in the court’s cafeteria.
The justices themselves read the award-winning SCOTUSblog, but unlike other media it has no official status in the marble courthouse.
This curious situation is attributable almost entirely to the unusual, if not unique, circumstances that surround SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein. The 43-year-old lawyer has made a career out of challenging the established way of doing things, first among Supreme Court advocates and more recently in its pressroom.
Goldstein is in the position of both making and reporting the news.
He is not just the founder, owner and publisher of SCOTUSblog, named for the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States. He also argues before the court, comments on and analyzes news on MSNBC and is quoted widely in media accounts.
SCOTUSblog has gone from a failed marketing ploy designed to attract more business to the law firm Goldstein started with his wife, Amy Howe, to an indispensable aid to Supreme Court reporters and lawyers. The blog’s Twitter account has 144,000 followers.
The blog is so popular among Supreme Court watchers that it is now helping set the agenda for coverage of the institution.
SCOTUSblog tries to steer clear of conflicts by routinely acknowledging when Goldstein’s firm is involved in cases the blog writes about. But the court itself is unsure how to deal with this hybrid that Goldstein created, a news outlet that is owned by one of the court’s own practitioners.
He wears, in his own words, "so many hats" around the court that it is hard sometimes to distinguish one from another. The blog has been reporting extensively on the cases the court has heard this term. Out of the 18 cases heard so far, two were argued by Goldstein, including one last week, and another by law firm partner Kevin Russell, also a SCOTUSblog contributor.
Howe, a lawyer who has argued before the court, now is a reporter and editor for the blog. So far this term, she has watched some arguments from seats reserved for lawyers, then written about cases for the blog.
When the justices heard arguments over gay marriage in March, Goldstein listened to them in a room set aside for lawyers, then updated the blog’s followers on Twitter.
Of all the media organizations with a presence at the high court, including The Associated Press, SCOTUSblog is the only one owned by a lawyer.
Goldstein said he wants SCOTUSblog to be treated like any other news organization. "We ought to be given the same benefits and be subject to the same restrictions as members of the press corps."