Tom Goldstein on the Evolution of SCOTUSblog

• August 20, 2012 • 10:11 am

GoverningWorks features a fascinating interview of Tom Goldstein, the founder of SCOTUSblog. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

[W]e can track all of our in-bound readers, unless someone takes the highly unusual step of hiding where they’re coming from.

And the Supreme Court doesn’t hide itself. It has the IP [Internet Protocol] address “Supreme Court of the United States” is the domain that’s associated with the IP address. And we were able to see hundreds and hundreds to thousands of hits coming in from them on any given day.

And we know from our former students who are clerks, from just casual conversations with the Justices, that the Court is very conscious of the blog and a lot of people inside the building read the blog. That doesn’t mean they think particularly highly of the blog or anything like that. Certainly, I would never say that the blog has influenced anything the Court has done.

But, you know, if you’re an important institution and there’s one Web site devoted to following everything that you do, it’s not surprising that you’re going to read it.

And, I was concerned that the Justices and their law clerks would come to believe that we were writing effectively to them. So that, if we were….So, back in the day, for example, if we filed a Cert. Petition, then we would write on the blog, ‘We filed this really interesting Cert. Petition. It’s about this, that or that question. And, here’s the reason the Court might take the case.’ That was never intended for the Court as an audience. But, the Court doesn’t know that and could mis-understand it. And so it became very important to cut all that out because, if the Justices don’t trust you, then you’re not being an effective advocate.

The other thing that happens is that because other people realize, or at least perceive, that the blog has an audience inside the building, people will try and use the blog to affect the Justices. So, constantly, we’re getting approached by people asking us to write about their cases, highlight their cases, cover cases in a particular way, as part of their agenda for influencing the Justices. And so, we’re incredibly resistant to that both because we think it’s improper and because we are just…we don’t want the Court to look at us in that way.

A kind of prototypical illustration is, there was a case last Term on the merits a the Court, where there parties were trying to get…one of the parties was trying to get a set of documents in front of the Court and was trying to lodge the documents in the Court but was unsuccessful in doing that. And so they couldn’t get them in front of the Justices and their law clerks in the ordinary process. And we got heavily lobbied to publish a story about the documents. And, they were very interesting. And so it presented a really genuine journalistic dilemma about what to do because it was apparent to me that a real part of their agenda was not because they wanted the documents published for the sake of publishing them and their interest [but] because they wanted a back door into the Court. And resolved that by not publishing them. But, it was a puzzle to work through.