SCOTUSBlog: The Business

One of the longtime bulwarks of the blawgosphere, SCOTUSBlog, is gone.  Having served to make  Tom Goldstein a player in that rarified niche, Supreme Court litigation, what once reflected some of the finest blawging is gone.  In its place, an enterprise has arisen.

SCOTUSBlog is now under the “exclusive sponsorship” of Bloomberg Law, whose funding allows it to do mainstream.

The sponsorship represents a tremendous public service by Bloomberg Law.  It allows us to improve and expand the information we distribute about the Court.  We now have four full-time staff.  Along with our reporter Lyle Denniston, Amy will devote almost all her time to editing and directing the blog; Kali and Kiera have converted to full-time blog employees.

Despite this staff, expect a fairly new direction in Supreme Court commentary.

Substantively, we are continuing our transition to more expert coverage.  Last Term, we published symposia with leading commentators, as well as coverage of individual cases from professors like Ronald Mann and Orin Kerr.  This Term, we have commitments from many more prominent academics to take responsibility for merits cases in their fields of expertise.  So we expect that the quality of our analysis will improve considerably.

Instead of getting a lawyer’s view of the decisions, anticipate the “prominent academic’s” approach, Not that they don’t have the time and inclination to write, some at enormous length and in excruciating detail, about important (and inconsequential) decisions, but the days of the “quick and dirty” or pragmatic reaction appear past. 

As for the views of readers, whether lawyers, lawprofs or lay-people, it’s clean and smart or the highway.

To comment, you will need to log in.  This involves a simple registration process, and all of the information provided during the registration process will remain confidential.  Registration is not required just to read the blog or community posts by other readers.

Of note, we will heavily moderate the community for civility and substance (in the sense that the comment has to be substantive, not that we have to agree with it).  We will delete comments and ban commenters when they fail to meet our standards.  Our goal is not to limit or to manipulate the debate.  But we will aggressively control its tenor and ensure that its quality is high.  By “high” quality, we don’t mean that the comments have to be lawyerly or contain detailed legal analysis.  Rather, they have to contribute to the discussion in some fashion, even if by asking further questions.  We hope many commenters will be non-lawyers.

Comments of this sort are a blawgers dream.  We all want brilliant and fascinating discussion, or at least a reasonable facsimile.  There’s nothing about Tom’s new “community” approach that is particularly novel, though he puts together as many rules and controls as the internet has to offer in order to keep the riff-raff out.

It seems curious that Tom emphasizes his hope that many commenters will be non-lawyers, given that SCOTUSBlog’s direction seems to be uber-law-geek with the reliance on academics rather than lawyers (or judges, for that matter) who will use these decisions in the trenches.  I expect it has more to do with the expansion of his reader base, given that lawyers comprise a relatively small universe of potential readers,  but Supreme Court sausage-making is hardly the sort of stuff that benefits from the common touch.

Goldstein’s entrepreneurial spirit is nothing to sneeze at.  He’s turned himself into a viable Supreme Court commodity, and his blog into the primary destination when it comes to all things Supreme Court.  Granted, it was more recitation and description than hard commentary, but that left something for the rest of the blawgosphere to do.  And Tom has now effectively monetized SCOTUSBlog, electing revenue over his Great Humanitarian Award.  Most of us would do the same.

Yet there’s something about this shift from, say, the amateur enthusiasm and freedom of a blawg unfettered by corporate concerns and one that adopts the mantle of officialdom.  There’s something about commenters who are vetted to create a “smarter” discussion, particularly given how many lawyers offer some incredibly dopey observations, but give rise to responses that generate light as well as some occasional heat.

Most disturbing is the resort to the formulaic approach of “ask the expert,” and the expert invariably being someone with scholarly credentials so that their every utterance comes with built-in academic credibility.  We see it in newspaper articles and on television news, the lawprof opining about things he’s never personally touched and only seen from afar.  We were knee deep in ideas from people who have never actually done the things they speak about with such refined expertise.  Now we’ll be neck-deep.

For those of us who have long appreciated SCOTUSBlog being there, being the first resource for Supreme Court decisions, briefs, reports, it seems unfair and unappreciative to question Tom Goldstein’s effort to make money off his blog and further his career as a Supreme Court litigator.  And yet, I can’t help feeling that we’ve lost a trusted friend, a reliable neighbor, who is moving from the ‘hood to the corporate bigtime.  And that our comments will be deemed too stupid and unworthy to make it onto the small screen.

Best of luck to Tom Goldstein, but don’t forget the lawyers who actually do the work in the trenches.  We’re not likely to bring you fame, big bucks or scholarly prestige, but we’ll be the ones cleaning up the mess left behind by the Supreme Court.