Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SCOTUSblog still barred from Supreme Court press room

I was once credentialed to the Supreme Court for the New Jersey Law Journal.  It was Martin Luther King's birthday in 1991 when I attended oral argument in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete, which extended the landmark Batson rule barring racial discrimination in jury selection to civil cases.  It was fun to enter the pressroom and to sit at the scribes table off to the left of the high bench where the Justices sit.  There were three or four other reporters there that day, as the cases argued attracted little attention.  I wrote my story on the train on the way back to New York.

But now virtually everyone who follows the U.S. Supreme Court relies on Scotusblog and its live-blogging.  It is a source of raw material, a valuable journal, reliable source of informative commentary pre and post argument.  It’s just great, really.  So it seems unfair at first blush that its live-blogging on opinion days, and its instant-replay commentary, so widely followed, have not earned it a seat in the courtroom with the scribes of the New York Times, NPR, and other journalistic stalwarts.  Only their venerable reporter Lyle Denniston, credentialed by WBUR Boston, has a spot in the courtroom and the press room downstairs.

The Senate Standing Committee of Correspondents which handles credentialing for the Supreme Court heard Scotusblog owner Tom Goldstein’s presentation in May.  They have now refused to reconsider his plea for a seat at the table.  The world of journalism has changed, of course.  Print is fading and digital is surging we all know.  But there is a difference between blogging and journalism.  It is the difference between the Press Officer and the reporter.  Both may speak the truth by their best lights but only the reporter can claim to be independent.  It is on the issue of independence that the Senate Correspondents Committee relied.    The Committee explained:

Standing Committee of Correspondents letter to SCOTUSblog June 23, 2014 | www.dailypress.senate.gov:

For a firewall to satisfy the Standing Committee, it would separate the law practice from the publication to prevent the law practice – which is an active advocate before the Supreme Court – from influencing editorial content. 
Goldstein, who earns his living at the law firm, controls the blog’s editorial direction and has day-to-day story conversations with SCOTUSblog reporters. The firm manager of Goldstein & Russell is the deputy manager of SCOTUSblog.... Far from keeping the blog editorially independent of the law practice as the rules require, these policies appear to permit the law practice to blend in with the blog. That makes it hard to determine where one ends and the other begins.
Although the First Amendment spares the press from the regulation that our procession experiences, that independence distinguishes journalists from lawyers who are zealously loyal  to our clients.

'via Blog this'

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