Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Clipping the Court

On the Volokh Conspiracy, Josh Blackman passes along “a disquieting tidbit” from an interview that Supreme Court reporter Marcia Coyle had with Kathleen Arberg about her tenure as the Court’s public information officer:

[Arberg:] In the past year, we’ve clipped approximately 10,000 news articles related to the court and the justices, roughly half of them tweets, just one indication of the growth in variety and breadth of coverage.

Blackman is properly “horrified to think there are 5,000 tweets worth clipping for the Justices.” Further:

But on a deeper level, I am troubled by the notion that the Justices need tweets and articles about them clipped. The media is overly hostile to conservative jurisprudence. Advocates posing as journalists routinely try to shame the Court to eschew conservative results. The Justices should be impervious to this pressure. But no. Many of the Justices are desirous of public approval, and feed on mainstream media accolades. And the PIO [Public Information Office] proactively feeds this habit. The so-called Greenhouse Effect is exacerbated within the Court.

I am very surprised to learn that the Court’s Public Information Office prepares news clippings for the Court. I doubt, though, that it does so “proactively” and instead assume that it has been asked to do so. But if the justices want the Court to be—and to appear—immune from improper outside pressure, why would they have the public-information office disseminate clippings? When did this practice start?

Addendum (4:15 p.m.): A reader writes: “In 2001, when I was a judicial intern in the office of the administrative assistant to Chief Justice Rehnquist, one of the daily responsibilities the other intern and I had was going through the major national newspapers (NYT, WaPo, USA Today, WSJ) and clipping any article that mentioned the court or a justice for dissemination to all the chambers.  So it has been going on for a while in some form…at least for a while before Twitter came along.”

Given the massive volume of articles on the Court and the strong ideological valence (explicit or implicit) of so many of them, it is an impossible task to compile a “neutral” and “objective” set of news clippings. Has the Court’s Public Information Office been circulating articles on pending cases? Has it been sending around op-eds urging Justice Breyer to retire?

Instead of circulating clippings, why doesn’t the Court just leave it to the justices and their law clerks to consult their own sources of information?


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