One of the more dramatic aspects of NFIB v. Sebelius, which I regale in Unprecedented, was the massive confusion inside and outside the Court on decision day. After quickly reading the opinion–and not getting to the Chief’s saving construction–CNN and then Fox reported that the law was invalidated. The resulting chaos was a mess, as everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Barack Obama though the law was struck down. SCOTUSBlog, Bloomberg, and a few others responsible reporters were able to take their time, and get it right, a few moments later. But, in any event, every major news organization knew it was coming, and they had their teams in place. It was the last day of the term, and it was now or never.
And then there was the First Monday in October 2014. The night before, the Court launched their new web site, which I (perhaps prematurely) praised. But this morning, at 9:30 a.m., bedlam ensued.
Like with NFIB day, the Supreme Court’s website became unavailable due to heavy traffic. Mark Sherman reports:
The list is also posted electronically, but it was only intermittently available on the revamped website the court rolled out Monday.
Marcia Coyle adds:
A mad scramble ensued to search for the orders list on the Supreme Court’s newly redesigned website. “Where the [expletive] is the orders list?” came a frustrated shout from one end of the pressroom.
“Wait, wait, it’s up now,” shouted another.
The single most important function–ability to withstand heavy traffic on decision days, [expletive] failed.
At the least, the saving grace for the reporters at the Court in June 2012 was that they had a complete paper copy to digest (quickly).
But that didn’t even happen today! The version given to reporters was missing 33 pages.
Here is Marcia Coyle’s report:
On schedule at 9:30 a.m., the public information staff handed out the paper “orders” list to reporters who crowded into the main office. Because the justices had granted review in 11 new cases last week in an early orders list, no new grants were expected, only denials of review in hundreds of cases filed throughout the summer months.
Everyone looked at the bulky list first for any sign of the seven pending same-sex marriage petitions. Seeing none, reporters tweeted that the court had said nothing about same-sex marriage Monday.
But as reporters, most on deadlines, continued to comb the list for other news, NBC’s Pete Williams suddenly called out, “The list goes from page 17 to 50.” Where were the missing 33 pages, and more importantly, what was on those pages?
Garrett Epps adds:
Complicating matters was a clerical mistake that led the press office to distribute to reporters a printed list of “orders”—meaning, among other things, denials of cert.—that was missing 33 pages. And the big news was in those 33 pages. A number of reporters went upstairs for oral argument, not knowing that history was being made. (I was one.)
How the [expletive] does this happen? How does the Court lose 33 pages in a print out? Including what will probably be the 7 most important cert denials of the [expletive] decade!
So what was it? Our friend Kathy Arberg said “technical glitches”
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said technical glitches were responsible for problems in the paper and electronic documents.
Marcia suggests it was a “copy machine” problem:
The high court’s copy machine apparently had a bad morning, but perhaps not as bad as those editors and reporters who soon regretted those early advisories of no news on same-sex marriage.
Update: More from Bill Mears:
Turns out that the 81-page orders list was missing 30 pages — including the section where the same-sex marriage appeals were noted. That was a simple printing error, but some reporters went upstairs to hear oral arguments in the second-floor courtroom, thinking no action had been taken on same-sex marriage.
By the time the complete orders came out, and the marriage cases were suddenly noted, chaos (and some cursing) ensued as reporters rushed to get the news out. The complete orders list was posted online on the court’s websites several minutes later for the general public to scan.
And Howard Bashman:
As of 10:40 a.m. eastern time, the U.S. Supreme Court has still not posted a link to today’s Order List on its web page created for that purpose: Today, the U.S. Supreme Court launched a redesigned web site. While the redesigned site looks attractive, the most important aspect of any web site is functionality.
Last year, the Court had its lengthy Order List from the first Monday in Octoberavailable online within six minutes.
Today, by contrast, more than an hour has passed and the Court’s Order List is still not available online via the page created for that purpose. To be sure, the Orders List is available online at this link. You can’t learn that now, however, from the U.S. Supreme Court’s own site.
Update: The Court finally posted a link to its Order List at or shortly after 10:45 a.m. eastern time. Here’s hoping that a link to next week’s Order List can be posted online somewhat more promptly than 75 minutes after its issuance.
Some have suggested that this may have been an issue affecting certain web browsers but not others. I was refreshing the page using Google Chrome.