U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS Notebook: Live Blog's 15 Minutes of Fame and Kennedy's Immigration Tidbit


The U.S. Supreme Court is attracting more public attention this week than it has in years. But the justices have rebuffed—by ignoring—the latest requests to televise or at least release audio of their opinion announcements. So where does the public turn on opinion days?

Mostly to SCOTUSBlog, the independent Web site that covers the court with a mix of reporting, legal analysis and statistics. And the court itself should get such good press. Forbes, The New Republic, and other media have profiled the site, which turns 10 this year.

With tomorrow the last day of the High Court’s term, and a decision expected in the Affordable Care Act case, the blog is expecting its biggest audience yet for its popular Live Blog. SCOTUSBlog’s staff members go live as much as an hour before the court’s 10 a.m. EDT start to preview the day’s possible action and answer reader questions.

For example, many readers have wondered why there have been no leaks from the court on the outcome of something as big as the health-care case.

“The last time a decision was leaked was in the 1930s, in one of the Gold Clause cases,” SCOTUSBlog’s reporter, Lyle Denniston, said on the live blog on Monday morning. “I wasn’t covering the court yet.”

Denniston, 81, has been on the Supreme Court beat since 1958 for such news outlets as the Washington Star, Baltimore Sun and Boston Globe before joining SCOTUSBlog.

Blog co-founder Tom Goldstein, also a prominent Supreme Court litigator, quipped on the live blog Monday about the possibility of several cases, including the health-care decision, coming down at once. “In that instance, the site will melt and this will all be moot,” he wrote.

In fact, SCOTUSBlog has spent thousands this month boosting its capacity and tinkering under the hood of the Web site. On Monday, participation on the live blog approached a total of 100,000 viewers, said Amy Howe, Goldstein’s wife and another contributor, who quipped on the live blog Monday about moving “from coffee to Vanilla Coke Zero. Like I said, overcaffeinated and under-rested.”

“We’re fully enjoying it,” Howe said in an interview. “This is our 15 minutes of notoriety.”

What started as a trickle of questions from readers as everyone waited for the justices to take the bench reached a peak of 3,000 queries Monday. Many readers asked basic questions, such as whether reporters know in advance which opinions are coming on a given day (they don’t), an indication of how much new interest there is in the high court’s traditions. When the live bloggers toss around a term like “preemption,” some readers ask what it means, while others are quick to say they don’t need to be treated like 8th-graders.

“So, you can’t please everyone,” said Howe.

Tomorrow, the staff members plan to run the blog from the Supreme Court building, where Denniston has a cubicle in the pressroom (though technically his credential is through a radio station), and the others have been setting up their laptops nearby, where they must rely on the court’s sometime confounding Wi-Fi service. Howe and another staff member had been staying back at the blog’s headquarters at the offices of the Goldstein & Russell law firm. But Howe plans to be at the court tomorrow.

Just keep the Vanilla Coke Zero flowing.

•••

Justice Antonin Scalia got quite a bit of attention for the part of his dissent in Arizona v. United States that criticized the Obama administration’s recent decision announcing plans to exempt from immigration enforcement those young undocumented aliens who meet certain conditions, such as having graduated from high school or served honorably in the U.S. military.

“To say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind,” Scalia said in a much-quoted passage of his dissent.

What received less attention was a passage in Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion that cited a different recent event that also occurred well outside the record in the Arizona case.

It came near the end of the majority opinion, as Kennedy sought to strike a few grace notes about how “immigration policy shapes the destiny of the nation.”

Kennedy referred to a May 24 naturalization event at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, where “a dozen immigrants stood before the tattered flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem.”

“These naturalization ceremonies bring together men and women of different origins who now share a common destiny,” Kennedy continued. “They swear a common oath to renounce fidelity to foreign princes, to defend the Constitution, and to bear arms on behalf of the country when required by law. The history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents, and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here.”

It almost reads as if Kennedy himself had attended the ceremony, though that appears not to be the case. The justice cited a Smithsonian Institution press release about the event.

The press release notes that the keynote address at the May 24 naturalization ceremony was to be given by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, herself a native of Czechoslovakia who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. (Coincidentally, Albright filed an amicus brief in the Arizona case, on behalf of herself and other former secretaries of state, warning of the potential harm to U.S. foreign relations of state immigration policies. Kennedy cited the brief earlier in his opinion.)

The Smithsonian press release goes on to address another important part of the May 24 event, one not mentioned by Kennedy: an “object-donation ceremony” in which Albright turned over historic items and personal effects from her tenure leading the State Department under President Clinton.

Among the objects being donated, the press release said, were a “red wool dress and jacket by Louis Féraud and red leather pumps by Ferragamo” worn by Albright at her 1996 nomination announcement; a “United Nations scarf, designed by Joachim Metz for Hermès … to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter,” and a “red shoe pin, a gift from Albright’s chief of staff to commemorate Albright’s remark about her predecessor Warren Christopher [that] ‘I only hope my heels can fill his shoes.’”

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