U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog appeal makes case for press credentials, says emerging media shouldn't be overlooked

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SCOTUSblog is making the case for press access by emerging media in a letter appealing a decision that denied press credentials to the highly regarded blog.

SCOTUSblog representatives will appear before the Standing Committee of the Senate Daily Press Gallery on May 23 to argue its case, according to this post by the blog. CQ Roll Call’s Hill Blotter blog and Concurring Opinions have stories.

The Senate Press Gallery denied a press pass to SCOTUSblog and its veteran Supreme Court journalist Lyle Denniston in April. Denniston still has a press pass for his work at WBUR in Boston, however, which he also can use for SCOTUSblog reporting.

In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has looked to credentials issued by the Senate when making its decisions on credentials, but the court has said it is reviewing its policy. SCOTUSblog’s letter (PDF) says the blog needs access to the Senate as well as the Supreme Court to cover hearings on Supreme Court nominees, and to cover testimony by the justices on issues related to the court and its workload.

Denniston has covered the Supreme Court for 56 years, and he has personally covered more than a third of the court’s merits docket for the blog, the letter says. Coverage of other cases comes from contributors. The blog gets nearly 60,000 unique visits per day on decision days in the middle of the term, before periods of peak interest at the end of the term. The blog also has about 160,000 Twitter followers.

SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein has said he didn’t get a list of reasons for the denial, which makes the appeals process more difficult. The blog’s letter tackles one possible reason: the issue of editorial independence.

“We understand the committee questioned SCOTUSblog’s editorial independence from the law firm of its publisher,” the letter says. “SCOTUSblog is a distinct entity that is both financially and editorially independent of Goldstein & Russell, P.C.” All salaries and expenses are paid with Bloomberg Law’s sponsorship of the blog. And the blog doesn’t pay any compensation to any lawyer or staffer with Goldstein & Russell.

Blog editor and writer Amy Howe was once a partner in the law firm, but she resigned last year and does not receive a salary or benefits from the firm, the letter says. Also, no person working on the blog is allowed to report on a case in which he or she, or his or her law firm, has had a role.

The letter notes that Howe’s legal experience is a plus, although she doesn’t have a traditional journalistic background. “Applying a standard that focuses solely on whether applicants for a credential hew closely to more traditional journalistic requirements creates a real danger that the committee will in the future decline to recognize other emerging media that specialize in a particular topic,” the letter says.

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