Obama Makes His Supreme Court Pitch Like Only A Legal Nerd Would

Can't get any geekier than a post on SCOTUSblog.
Legal nerd.
Legal nerd.

President Barack Obama could've chosen from a number of established outlets to make his pitch for the kind of Supreme Court justice he'll nominate.

Instead, he went with SCOTUSblog, a legal outlet featuring case previews, analysis and other details about past and present Supreme Court cases. It's a sort of holy grail for lawyers and legal nerds, including this reporter.

The president's "spoiler-free insights" into the kind of nominee he'll make to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, published Wednesday on the site, were fairly general. Still, Obama's words give a good sense of what he's looking for.

"A sterling record. A deep respect for the judiciary's role. An understanding of the way the world really works. That's what I'm considering as I fulfill my constitutional duty to appoint a judge to our highest court," Obama wrote in his guest blog, titled "A Responsibility I Take Seriously."

The blog post was a big get for the award-winning SCOTUSblog, which has been around for over a decade, but as recently as a couple of years ago still faced some uncertainty over credentialing for its veteran reporter, Lyle Denniston -- who has covered the Supreme Court for longer than Justice Elena Kagan has been alive.

"I greatly respect SCOTUSblog, and it's of course an eminently logical place for the President to post his statement," UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a namesake of The Volokh Conspiracy, another blog for legal nerds featuring more conservative and libertarian views, said in an email.

The president's choice of SCOTUSblog quickly sent ripples through other corners of the tightly knit legal blogosphere -- or blawgosphere, as lawyers and longtime legal scribes like to call it. Some suggested the executive branch may be setting a trend or playing favorites:

That would be Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog's publisher and an appellate lawyer who appears frequently before the Supreme Court, including in a case argued last month. He said the White House took him by surprise with the idea of a guest post by the president.

"There was no heads up. No discussion before anything. Just completely out of the blue," Goldstein said.

Goldstein said he and his wife, the blogger and editor Amy Howe, were allowed to edit a minor detail in the post. "Amy got a chance to say she edited the president," he said. But for the most part, the post was published as submitted.

"People pay a lot of attention," Goldstein added, referring to comments he saw online about the president's use of double spacing after each sentence, or his choice of the word "appoint" rather than "nominate" when mentioning what he's looking for in a Supreme Court candidate.

"I'm going to nominate somebody and let the American people decide as to whether that person is qualified," Obama said later from the Oval Office. "And if they are qualified, let the American people decide whether there's enough time for the U.S. Senate to hold hearings and have a vote."

Because of his role as advocate before the court, Goldstein has instituted policies to make sure SCOTUSblog content remains objective and not biased toward particular cases or outcomes -- especially those matters where he serves as lead counsel. For that reason, he doesn't blog much himself, relying instead on Denniston, Howe and a small army of legal experts and contributors.

But since Scalia's death, Goldstein has authored six blog posts -- including an analysis of what will happen with the court's undecided cases, and predictions for potential Obama nominees.

Asked if he thinks he has Obama's ear on Supreme Court nominations, Goldstein quickly demurred. "I cannot imagine that the president gives a damn about what I think about this," he said. "I find it impossible to believe."

SCOTUSblog appears poised to take a more aggressive role in the coming months, as it did covering the nominations and confirmation hearings of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Goldstein said he's already "mapped out" a coverage plan.

"It's going to be 10 longish pieces about what role the court can play in the election. What the big issues are at stake -- for both Republicans and Democracts, conservatives and progressives," Goldstein said.

As for his views on whether the justices should throw in their two cents in the coming debate -- like Justice Samuel Alito did on Tuesday, when he said the Supreme Court "will deal" with its current lineup -- Goldstein said they will get a chance to make their voices heard once they begin to hear and rule on cases without one of its longtime members.

"This will be the situation where actions speak louder than words," he said.

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