US Supreme Court looks like one of the biggest losers here

I have just read an excellent account of the events around the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act (aka ‘Obamacare’).

English: West face of the United States Suprem...
English: West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Español: Edificio de la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos en Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


If you love news and journalism it’s a ripping tale and one in which CNN and Fox News both end up with egg over their faces (though at least CNN admitted their mistake – Fox never did).

But both journalistic organisations were principally guilty of trying too hard, not of a worse crime.

But what are we to make of the Supreme Court itself:

The Supreme Court will not grant SCOTUSblog a press credential. 

This is despite the fact that literally millions read it and other media organisations and the White House are relying on it to interpret the ruling.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website.  In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced.  But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later.  The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does.  At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet – ever.  It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building – including not just the public, but press editors and the White House – can get the ruling.  And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision.  They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over – hitting refresh again, and again, and again.  In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour.  So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Not good.

OK, not my country, but it looks like the court is struggling to update its approach to communications.


2 responses to “US Supreme Court looks like one of the biggest losers here”

  1. There may have been hiccups downloading the opinion, but I’m pretty sure the reporting here is also hyperbolic (in a self-serving way). “… greater demand than any other site on the Internet – ever”??? I recall multiple server crashes when the Starr report (relating to the attempted impeachment of President Clinton) came out. I have to think that a report written in more or less plain English, pertaining to the impeachment of a US president, and containing salacious facts about a sex scandal (albeit presumably without benefit of illustrations) would outdraw a 200+ page document in legalese about the constitutionality of a law that may or may not be repealed before most provisions kick in.

    Emailing the beast to plaintiff, defendant et al. makes sense to me. Emailing it to new organizations opens a Pandora’s box — bloggers claiming to be newsies who are left off the distribution list (intentionally or not), claims that some outlets get it before others, allowing the former to scoop the latter, etc. I don’t have a problem with news outlets needing to go to a website and compete with the plebs.

  2. All good points. Though I’d guess the Starr report (1998?) was at a time when internet penetration was probably only half (or even less) of the level today (nobody, or next to nobody, had internet access on their phone for instance).
    The granting access to blogs etc is a tough one – after all anyone can be a blogger, but I am sure criteria could be set.

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