It is a (minor) tradition of this blog to note the opening of the new Supreme Court session, traditionally the first Monday in October. Well, here we are!
It looks to be an interesting term, with a lot of potentially interesting cases, but perhaps no real “blockbusters.” Adam Liptak has a nice rundown in the Times. But even this construction points back to one of the difficulties with reporting on the Supreme Court (or perhaps the law in general.) I’m not convinced that these cases are less “blockbuster,” but just that they require some more explication than some of the recent high-profile cases. They seem to me, as simply an informed layman, to have major implications, but turn on a less-than-obvious legal question or connection.
So, more than a lot of areas, it seems to me, we really rely on good reportage of the court (not to mention the fact that we can’t see what actually transpires in the courtroom.) And I sometimes think we are kind of at the end of a great era. As noted before, the two grand dames of SCOTUS reporting, Linda Greenhouse and Nina Totenberg, are, respectively retired but still writing, or still reporting but seem to be ramping back. Liptak strikes me as a solid reporter, but hasn’t really found a voice yet. Jeffrey Toobin does good work, but mostly in long form articles or books. (This good analysis is representative of the kind of background work that some of these big cases need.) My personal favorite, Dahlia Lithwick, has (like Greenhouse) broadened her scope, so can’t really be called a SC reporter anymore. (But be sure to read her very important article/preview about how many of the cases turn on how much the Court respects precedents (the concept of stare decisis) and the opinions of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in particular.)
But maybe we’re just entering into a new, not necessarily worse, period thanks to blogging, easier access to documents, etc. If you really care about the Supreme Court, you keep up with SCOTUSblog (and yes, they also have a twitter feed.) It’s practically real-time documentation and analysis of virtually everything the Court does. It’s really a microcosm of what’s happening in journalism more broadly.
Which (kind of) leads to one thing to note, if you haven’t already: as the Court itself has become more technologically sophisticated (and that’s a pretty low bar) it has succumbed to the problem of “link rot”: about half of the links to citations in opinions are broken. This is a non-trivial problem, isn’t it? (Here’s a nice Liptak summary.) This might lead one to broader musings on the nature of knowledge in the digital age. Do things disappear from the internet, or do we just lose the index, if you will? Imagine how useless a big library would be without a filing system and a card catalog (and with none of the books having an index.)
By the way, have I complained yet about how ads have starting appearing in my blog? I have no idea why–I may have hit some threshold of “followers,” but rest assured, I didn’t do it and don’t get any revenue out of this (that’s a hilarious notion in itself). Sorry about them, though. I don’t like them, either, although I recognize their necessity (I guess.)