SCOTUSBlog Losing Press Access To The Supreme Court

If a decision by the Senate Press Gallery stands, SCOTUSBlog's ability to cover the Supreme Court will be significantly restricted.

Supreme Court Building

SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein reveals today that the blog has been denied a press pass and the pass that had been issued to Lyle Denniston, who has been providing reporting coverage for the blog since its inception and has been a credential reporter covering the Supreme Court for more than 50 years, will not be renewed:

Last week, the Senate Press Gallery denied SCOTUSblog’s application for a press pass, and advised us that it would refuse to renew the credential it had previously granted Lyle when it expires next month.  We were disappointed in that decision, and we are grateful for the support that we have received through social media, emails, and phone calls.

We thought it would be useful to write and explain the state of play regarding our credentialing.  SCOTUSblog is not now, and has never been, credentialed by the Supreme Court.  The Court’s longstanding policy was to look to credentials issued by the Senate.  We pursued a Senate credential for several years, modifying several policies of the blog to address concerns expressed by the Gallery.  Last year, we  finally succeeded – the Senate Press Gallery credentialed Lyle as a reporter for SCOTUSblog.  We then presented that credential to the Supreme Court, thinking that the issue was resolved.

But the Court declined to recognize the credential, explaining that it would instead review its credentialing policy.  The Court has not indicated when that review will conclude.

In the interim, we do have a largely uninterrupted ability to cover the Court, which has tried to accommodate the blog, despite declining to credential it.  Well before the Senate issued a credential to Lyle, the Court had recognized Lyle based on his work for WBUR in Boston.  That remains unchanged.  Also, as an interim measure during the review of its policies, we have requested public seats for the cases that Amy is covering, and the Court has granted all those requests.

All that said, the Senate Press Gallery’s decision to deny us a credential is important to us.  We wanted the credential in substantial part because we cover Supreme Court-related matters in the Senate.  Most significantly, we do gavel-to-gavel, liveblog coverage of Supreme Court nominations.  We also expect to cover hearings related to the Court’s budget.  So those efforts are now more difficult.

So we plan to appeal the Senate Gallery’s credentialing decision.

In the eleven years that it has been in existence, and most certainly within the last several years, SCOTUSBlog has become an invaluable resource for lawyers who litigate before the Supreme Court and their clients, attorneys in cases that raise issues similar to those that are pending before the Court at a given time, those of us who write about legal issues and the Court’s decisions on a regular basis and, of course, the general public. In one central location you can find information about all the cases pending before the Court in a given term and the legal issues that they present, read all of the briefs filed by the parties to those cases as well as the numerous amicus briefs filed in those cases, and have access to legal analysis of the briefs and the oral argument before the Court in each of those cases. For past terms, the blog maintains an historical archive with all of that information available with just a mouse click. The site has also become well known for its live blogs of the court’s “decision days,” especially on days when high profile decisions are handed down as the Court’s term winds down every June. In each of the last three years, those late term live blogs have set traffic records for the site and have also been featured as part of the “Breaking News” coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel. When you consider the fact that this all started as a purely voluntary effort like most blogs have, it’s amazing how SCOTUSBlog has become an indispensable part of the media.

The history of SCOTUSBlog and what it has contributed to the nation makes the current situation not just unfortunate but outrageous.

The inability of the blog itself to get a press credential to cover the Court has never been fully explained, although the fact that the lawyers who started the site are affiliated with a firm that frequently represents parties before the Supreme Court may have had something to do with that. In recent months, though, and due in no small part no doubt to its affiliation with Bloomberg News, the site has taken steps to separate itself from the law firm. Additionally, when there have been times in the past that the law firm was representing one of the parties in a particular case, that matter has been disclosed to readers in nearly every post about those particular cases.

Even worse than the ongoing denial of the blog’s efforts to get a press pass, though, is the apparent decision to decline to renew Lyle Denniston’s pass. As noted above, Denniston has been covering the Supreme Court for more than five decades now for publications such as the The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, The American Lawyer, and the now defunct Washington Star. He has also been a frequent panelist at conferences on the Court and legal issues around the country. Even though he’s 81 years old, he still manages to produce great analysis of the cases before the Court in manner that is understandable to even those without legal training. Again, there is apparently no explanation for why the Senate Press Gallery declined to renew Denniston’s pass.

Hopefully, all of this will be resolved before the Court starts its October 2014 Term next fall.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Law and the Courts, Media, Supreme Court, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hal_10000 says:

    But Doug, if SCOTUSblog is credentialed, that might hurt the ability of the networks to give us BREAKING NEWS that it is totally and completely wrong.

    In seriousness, I love their site. It’s simple clean and ridiculously informative. I blogged about a case last year and had all the briefs at my fingertips.

  2. Tyrell says:

    I hope that this is not an effort to make the US Supreme Court even more secretive and closed off to the public. A “star chamber” we don’t need.
    See “Secrets of the Federal Reserve”, enough to stand your hair on end.

  3. Kari Q says:

    Wow. I understand that it can be difficult to determine if a website is a valid journalistic endeavor, but the work of SCOTUSblog is not a judgement call. I hope they reverse themselves on this quickly.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    The SCOTUS can’t handle truth to power!

  5. RGardner says:

    Truly weird. I did a little research on the Senate Press Gallery

    Staff of 6 (no idea on any of them), supposedly overseen by six correspondents, none of whom I have any issue with. I bet the “board” is being blindsided by this; typical case of the staff living in their own cloistered world and now the board is getting shell-shocked at the dumb staff decision. (bet the board only meets once a year – with a .gov website means you can FOIA it)

    The Standing Committee of Correspondents (basically a Board)

    Siobhan Hughes, Chairwoman, Wall Street Journal

    Peter Urban, Secretary, Stephens Media Group

    Colby Itkowitz, Washington Post

    Kate Hunter, Bloomberg

    Emily Ethridge, CQ/Roll Call

    BTW, off Poitico,
    “Siobhan Hughes, Capitol Hill reporter for the Wall Street Journal and chairwoman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which made the decision, said in an email that the committee is not commenting on the issue.”

    I think that means they are in damage control mode.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s a shame. Lyle Denniston has been providing the best coverage of the Supreme Court available, bar none.

  7. As a layperson who spends a fair amount of time reading SC opinions, this sucks.

  8. Woody says:

    I teach senior high students and one of the centerpieces of my course is to have the students argue/judge an actual – but not-yet-decided – case (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby at present). They research/read everything from press reports to amicus briefs and generally get quite into it.

    Lyle Denniston’s SCOTUSblog is the premier source for these students precisely for the reason Mr Mataconis stated above: he has a gift for presenting complex legal arguments into a format understood by non-lawyers.

    This is another example of the courtier press defending their access from the rabble. After all, why would the proles need to understand what is being decided in the nation’s highest court? It’s not as if they’re ever going to be at Cokie’s next party (unless they’re serving the canapés).