U.S. Supreme Court

Reporters group denies press pass to SCOTUSblog, calls founder's Supreme Court advocacy 'lobbying'

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A group of reporters responsible for determining which media organizations get credentialed to cover Congress is standing firm on a previous decision to deny a press pass to SCOTUSblog.

Although relied on by many for U.S. Supreme Court coverage and the recipient of multiple journalism awards, as an earlier New York Times (reg. req.) article noted, the blog’s publisher, Tom Goldstein, is an attorney who argues cases before the nation’s top court. Hence, SCOTUSblog does not meet editorial independence requirements, explains the Standing Committee of Correspondents from the Congressional Press Galleries in a Monday letter (PDF).

The letter contended that Goldstein’s work as a lawyer trying cases before the U.S. Supreme Court “is a form of lobbying the federal government,” which is prohibited by the committee’s rules. It also pointed to the blog’s role as a business-generating arm of Goldstein’s law firm, Goldstein & Russell, in contravention of a requirement that credentialed reporters must work for general news organizations.

“For SCOTUSblog to be editorially independent of Mr. Goldstein and his law firm, it could not, under the rule, serve as a client-generating vehicle for either. But as recently as last year, Mr. Goldstein told the American Bar Association that SCOTUSblog indirectly accounted for 75 percent of the law firm’s Supreme Court business,” the committee wrote. “Mr. Goldstein also uses SCOTUSblog as a platform for publicity material about himself, making the blog part of his personal brand.”

The committee appears to be referring to a podcast Goldstein recorded with the ABA Journal in July 2013. In the interview, moderator Stephanie Francis Ward asked him, “Can you tell me, do you have a sense of how much business you’ve received in dollars or percentage from the blog?”

“It’s hard to tell. The blog really is what I’m known best for now, because it had the great good fortune to have a lot of readers,” Goldstein responded. “And in the wake of the healthcare decision, for example, a lot of people came to know the blog. I would say that the blog contributes to 75 percent of the Supreme Court work that I get hired to do. So it’s very important, even though it’s indirect. Even though we don’t discuss the firm’s cases on the blog, for example.”

Although addressed to SCOTUSblog, the letter was distributed to the media before SCOTUSblog received it, Goldstein said in a SCOTUSblog post Monday morning.

He told Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call that he couldn’t immediately comment because he was busy reporting the day’s high court decisions.

However, after the initial April denial of the credential by the committee which Goldstein vowed to appeal, he suggested that he might sue if the appeal were unsuccessful.

Publishers are not prohibited by the committee from having dual roles, and he shouldn’t be either, Goldstein wrote in a SCOTUSblog post earlier this month.

“It is true that I have two jobs. A lot of people do. Here, my job as someone who has practiced in front of the Supreme Court for fifteen years helps me run a news organization related to the Supreme Court. And I have to have two jobs. If I didn’t, we could not make enough money to keep the blog going. It survives financially because I do not take a salary from it. And that is going to be a recurring scenario: Subject matter experts are increasingly creating specialized publications that provide a public service. If the committee is going to forbid it, the committee is going to exclude a lot of valuable emerging media.”

The Columbia Journalism Review has a lengthy article about the dispute.

See also:

ABAJournal.com (Nov. 2013): “SCOTUSblog will be shopping for a buyer next year, its founder confirms”

SCOTUSblog (April 2014): “An update on our press pass”

ABAJournal.com (May 2014): “SCOTUSblog appeal makes case for press credentials, says emerging media shouldn’t be overlooked”

Updated at 1:01 p.m. to include a link to the podcast and quotes from the transcript.

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