SCOTUSblog became a household website in 2012 after the highly watched and, depending on who you watched, initially misreported Affordable Care Act decision, aka the Obamacare cases, were released. That day in June, SCOTUSblog’s 500,000 real-time viewers nearly crashed the website. During the days I was in the Court for the 2012-13 term I wondered where the famous SCOTUSblog team was? I’d seen all the Supreme Court reporters at least once over those days, but not the creator or team behind the credible and highly trafficked website during last year’s Healthcare cases. One would expect their presence to be more visible in the Court. Had I seen any of these people inside the courtroom or press office come to think of it? No, I hadn’t. How is that possible? I’d seen Lyle Denniston, a fifty-five year veteran of Supreme Court reporting and frequent SCOTUSblog writer, in the press office. But that was the only place. Where was founder and contributor Tom Goldstein all that time? How was the powerhouse reporting team from SCOTUSblog getting worse access than me, a lowly intern, on the days when major decisions were coming down?!
I found them on the last day…here, in the Court cafeteria.
Other than Lyle Denniston, none of the SCOTUSblog team has credentials to get into the courtroom to listen to and report out the decisions. In fact, Denniston only recently got his SC press credentials. After asking around to uncover why this is so, I learned that the Court – slow to change most of their traditions (cameras are still not permitted inside) – gives out press credentials to a small group of around 25 journalists and will not give press credentials to an online source like SCOTUSblog whose writers are also Supreme Court advocates (attorneys who have, or may in the future, argued before the justices). Denniston’s affiliation writing for Boston’s NPR syndicate was the end route SCOTUSblog took to get him credentialed access inside the Court, relegating the rest of the writing staff outside the Court’s doors in the cafeteria. This is a temporary victory for team SCOTUSblog given Mr. Denniston’s age (81) and the Court’s snail-like pace to hand out new credentials.
On the final day of the Court’s term this June, when the same-sex marriage cases (Windsor and Hollingsworth) were certain to come down, I got to the courthouse early. Once inside, I decided to kill time in the Supreme Court cafeteria. Lo and behold, there was Team SCOTUSblog. Amy Howe, Tom Goldstein, Tejinder Singh, and a few others had clearly set up camp in the cafeteria with phones, laptops, and legal pads scattered on tables. Goldstein is a member of the Supreme Court Bar and has argued 28 times before the Court, giving him access inside the building, though no further than the seats in the front for bar association members. The front row seats may not be worth the price of admission to Mr. Goldstein as the rules inside the courtroom ban electronic devices, writing utensils, and paper for everyone, except the press. This is likely why Goldstein enters the Courthouse, skips the courtroom, and heads straight for the cafeteria where all those items are allowed so he and the team can report out the cases immediately after they are issued by the justices. It may sound like an unnecessarily complicated set of hoops for them to jump through – and they are considering SCOTUSblog is a reliable news outlet legitimized by the thousands of daily readers who deserve credentials – but it’s not the worst place to work from. The coffee is pretty great in the cafeteria, the seats are more comfortable, and there’s no “shush”ing from the court watchers. And, if you’re concern as a news source is getting the story out accurately rather than first
CNN, FOXNews this would seem a minor annoyance.
Here’s a great interview with Goldstein from C-SPAN’s Q&A show where he discusses, among other things, SCOTUSblog’s coverage of Supreme Court cases and getting credentials: