The essence of Chutzpah: SCOTUSBlog blogs about whether it is proper for blogs to try to influence the Court

November 3rd, 2011

This SCOTUSBlog community feature raises a fair question, though I think some introspection would help.

From SCOTUSBlog’s own policy page (which would probably have been a good thing for Tom Goldstein to cite, rather than the DC Ethic Rules):

The blog never seeks to influence the Courtâ’s decision making.  We are aware that the blog is widely read within the Court, however.  So we have adopted policies intended to avoid any appearance of impropriety.  The decision whether to highlight any petition in a separate post is made exclusively by Lyle Denniston in his own discretion.  As noted, we no longer highlight our own briefs, including our own cert. petitions.  The Petitions to Watch feature now never comments on our own cases – separately listing them – to avoid any possibility that we would favor them, except in the rare case noted above in which we have undertaken a duty of confidentiality to the client.

I’m glad they made the change to the Petitions for Watch. For years, those petitioners included those represented by the attorneys who work with the firm, and it is fair to suspect that their petitions got a home field advantage.

I love SCOTUSBlog. Their resources are vast and thorough. Frankly, I don’t read much of their new content, because well, there is just too much! I would be curious to compare the traffic for their live broadcast of opinion hand-down days, and maybe Lyle’s summaries of oral arguments that are posted first, with all of their other content–I’m talking about the symposia and special features. I’d wager the former is the vast majority, and the latter barely gets a trickle.

Of course, I have no problem with blogs attempting to influence any court.  I think it’s a useful medium, and can be effective. Rather, I simply don’t call myself an “impartial, journalistic entry” that “exists to provide readers with objective information.” I think serves that role rather well for SCOTUS info. The line between journalism and punditry, especially when talking about the web is a fine one, though I would err on the side of safety here.