SCOTUSBlog Wants SCOTUS Press Pass
The blog that has become, beyond question, the best source for news and analysis regarding the Supreme Court thinks its time they had an official Supreme Court Press Pass of their own:
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.
That conflict is likely to end in the near future though given Goldstein’s business plans:
The blog got a huge boost in credibility when it hired veteran reporter Lyle Denniston, who began covering the Supreme Court during the Eisenhower administration. Goldstein attracted a deep-pocketed sponsor in Bloomberg Law, the legal research unit of Bloomberg LP, and says he now spends $500,000 a year on the blog. The relationship with Bloomberg is in its third and final year, Goldstein said.
Next year, Goldstein said he intends to sell SCOTUSblog. To that end, he wants a formal press credential for Denniston, whose pass is courtesy of a Boston public radio station for which he works only rarely, and maybe even Howe.
The formal recognition he seeks is part of a series of moves aimed at making SCOTUSblog more attractive to prospective buyers. “We put more effort into covering the Supreme Court than any other organization in American history,” Goldstein says, including in his claim even specialty legal publications like the American Lawyer.
The court, though, has remained noncommittal about how to treat SCOTUSblog. Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said she is reviewing the credentialing process for the first time in nearly 40 years. “We won’t act on any pending requests until we have completed that process,” Arberg said.
The Court’s caution here is obviously warranted, but with the prospect that Goldstein will be ending his direct relationship with the blog at some point in the near future, the actual conflict of interest would seem to be diminishing significantly. More importantly, though, there’s simply no question that SCOTUSBlog has become an invaluable resource for anyone following the Supreme Court to the point where it’s Live Blog on high profile decision days now receives live coverage on all the cable news networks because, unlike many of those networks, they’ve been careful to actually read through opinions before “breaking” the news of what they Court has said. So, yes, give them a press pass or two. In the end, it can only help to improve the coverage of the nation’s highest court.