Friends of F1@1F–
I’m back and have some big news: as of today, I am the Supreme Court Correspondent for the Huffington Post!
F1@1F will remain live as the public archive for all my pre-HuffPost writing. Once my HuffPost author page goes live, I will post the link here. In the meantime, please note that I’ve changed my Twitter handle to MikeSacksHP. You can expect much more activity over there, too.
This new gig is an absolute dream come true. Without your readership and support, I would have never been so fortunate to make the leap from the blogs to the big leagues. As ever, thank you all so much.
See you at HuffPost!
Authors/artists Dan Schofield and Alice DuBois “plan to illustrate all 112 justices of the Supreme Court, as well as some landmark cases.”
Indeed, Hybrid Justices appear to be on the rise lately: Art Lien spliced Scalia’s genes right inside the Court earlier this month. Talk about getting ahead of the great genetic engineering debate bound to come before the Court in October Term 2061.
I’ve just returned from my post-bar exam trip where I spent my days, inter alia, sitting beachside with the First Lady of F1@1F while reading Michigan v. Bryant, FCC v. AT&T, and Snyder v. Phelps, and not wishing at all to trade the warm Caribbean mornings for the freezing Supreme Court sidewalk, however compelling the arguments in Alford, Bullcoming, and Al-Kidd appeared to be.
Now that I’m back, I hope to make up for my bar-induced sporadic output over the past two months. It won’t be easy: the Court will be silent for two weeks between this coming Monday’s announcement of cert. grants and perhaps a couple of opinions, and the (relative) doozies docketed for the next round of oral arguments. Still, even during such silences, there’s always something swirling around One First Street worth catching and commenting upon.
On a quick visit to the Supreme Court’s official website this morning, I noticed a new option under its Opinions menu: Video Resources.
At first I thought, “It couldn’t be!” Well, it turns out that it, indeed, couldn’t be. The Court wasn’t usurping C-Span over the years by surreptitiously recording video of its oral arguments to be released when no one was looking. No, the two items available for download in this section are pieces of video evidence crucial to the Court’s decisionmaking in cases from 2007 and 2008.
The first video is a victim impact statement at issue in Kelly v. California, a case for which the Court denied certiorari, prompting Justice Stevens to issue a statement deeming the video to be inadmissibly prejudicial, if not irrelevant, to the capital case at hand.
The second video is of a car chase that the Court reviewed in Scott v. Harris ultimately to answer by an 8-1 vote in the affirmative the question of “whether a law enforcement official can, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, attempt to stop a fleeing motorist from continuing his public-endangering flight by ramming the motorist’s car from behind.”
By creating this new listing on its website, the Court hasn’t quietly unveiled never-before-seen footage: footnotes in both the Kelly statement and the Scott decision provide links to where the Court stored the videos on its former website. Rather, the Court has simply made these videos more accessible than before.
Nevertheless, I’m still holding out hope that one day I’ll check the SCOTUS A/V Club to find that the Court has converted from Betamax the pilot oral argument recording of some obscure, late-Burger era case that contains such unflattering depictions of the justices as to expose once and for all the real reason why they remain so firmly committed against cameras in the courtroom.
Today’s headline at The Onion:
Here’s a choice cut from the article:
Upon learning that gay marriage actually had to go to the Supreme Court, where it barely passed in a controversial 5-to-4 decision, students from the class of 2086 speculated that “maybe people were just dumber [in the early 2000s],” at which point student Eminem Robertson began to loudly impersonate a bumbling Supreme Court justice from the turn of the century, eliciting loud laughs of approval from classmates.
Mr. Bernard, 58, told the class that he himself could remember how in the 2030s gay marriage was still a somewhat touchy subject in certain parts of the country.
“It’s true,” said Mr. Bernard, gesturing to a holographic projection of late-20th/early-21st-century antigay preacher Fred Phelps on the classroom’s V-screen. “Most people had come around by the time I was your age, of course, but you would still read and hear things about how certain people in New Washington were trying to overturn the court’s ruling. Hard to imagine anyone being that adamant about gays not marrying, but those were different times.”
This reminds me of my own fun with the future back when I first launched F1@1F. Dare I say that The Onion’s looks far more realistic?
In a sleepless frenzy one year and twentyish hours ago, I created First One @ One First. I had no idea what to expect except for the inevitable freezing cold awaiting me a week and a half later on the Supreme Court sidewalk.
What a difference a year makes. I’ve learned that I could endure those freezing cold mornings, made many new friends, been given some fantastic encouragement from rockstars of the SCOTUS press and bar, became a freelance print reporter, finished law school, and, well:
All this and more has made 2010 a hell of a thrilling year. But none of it, except for that inevitable freezing cold, would have been possible without the support and feedback of my readers, mentors, family, and the FLOF1@1F. Thank you for visiting, subscribing, commenting, linking, correcting, and emailing out here in the ether. And thank you for meeting, speaking, freezing, enduring, debating, and exulting with me out there on the sidewalk. All of these contacts with you have been my true pleasure.
While my bar studies may keep me from the sidewalk over the next two months, I hope to spend whatever breaks I take providing commentary–both mine and yours, if you are so generous–on arguments and decisions. Further, I will be happy to post any reports, photos, and videos from those who do attend certain arguments that are of interest to F1@1F.
Once again, my deepest thanks to everyone who has dropped by this year. Here’s to 2011!
Friends of F1@1F–
This past summer, my work at F1@1F was supported by a grant from Georgetown Law’s Equal Justice Foundation. Every year, EJF generously supports a significant amount of Georgetown Law students pursuing public interest careers. And every year, EJF must refill its coffers for the next group of students who would otherwise be unable to get their starts in careers that make my reporting and opining on this site seem positively insignificant by comparison.
If you would like to make a donation to Georgetown EJF, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. All I ask in exchange for my work is your continued readership and valuable feedback, but a little spare cash towards my very important financial backer from the summer will be appreciated far beyond this blog.
Outlaw, NBC’s god-awful Supreme Court drama starring Jimmy Smits, got canned yesterday. When The Onion’s A.V. Club announced the news, the site’s commentariat got to work pitching new SCOTUS-themed shows:
The First Lady of First One @ One First and I just returned from a weekend trip to Philly. We left on Friday, just in time for her to be a captive audience to the Court’s just-released audio from last week’s oral arguments. But moments into Snyder v. Phelps, her initial reluctance gave way to rapt attention and demands to “pause it!” so she could give her own impressions of the issue at hand. She enjoyed the back-and-forth of the justices and advocates so much that when we hit the road today, she asked to pass the time at the toll booths with Connick v. Thompson.
For those who do not have an hour on hand to subject your special someone to the full SCOTUS treatment, Josh Blackman of The Harlan Institute has produced a thirteen minute “FantasyCast” of Snyder as part of the Institute’s FantasySCOTUS project. In it, he compiles the argument’s audio highlight reel to create a very effective summary of what transpired last Tuesday morning.
Despite his job well done on the FantasyCast, however, I know Josh would agree that the full hour’s argument is worth the listen. To put the FLOF1@1F’s enthusiasm in context, it took her three years to tune her ear to the differences between AC/DC’s Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras, but only two hours to correctly identify each justice by voice. If she’s proven more fit for the Supreme Court Side Walk than the Heavy Metal Parking Lot, I’m certainly not complaining. In fact, should her response be typical for non-SCOTUS obsessives, then the Court should consider augmenting its annual budget with some lucrative summer arena tours. Talk about two birds, one stone: the justices would be able to quit their annual Congressional grovel for pay raises, and the peoples’ increased opportunity to watch the Court in action would quell some of the cries for cameras in the courtroom.
This morning at Georgetown Law’s symposium in celebration of Justice Stevens, I had the good fortune–and great honor–of speaking with the Justice himself for a few minutes. Upon my introducing myself, I was surprised–and greatly honored–to learn that he was familiar with my work. So as I handed him a printed copy of my article recounting his final oral argument, he asked if it was the one he saw in the post the other day.
“The Post?” I asked. ”I’ve written for the ABA Journal and Christian Science Monitor, but never the Washington Post.” [Note: This conversation has been reconstructed from my memory; the quotations are accurate portrayals of our discussion, but not of the exact words spoken.]
“No, I received something of yours in the post.”
He opened the envelope and looked at the first few sentences of the story.
“This is not the same one,” Justice Stevens said, as he thanked me for the new reading material. And whoever mailed the justice one of my columns, I thank you.
He then asked my opinion on cameras in the Court, perhaps implying that the article he had already seen was the one from June’s final day of the last term.
I told him that I am fully in favor of televised proceedings. He mentioned that there could be some adverse consequences. I responded that his former colleagues could be trusted to smack down any grandstanding lawyers, as they have always done.
“And what about the justices themselves?”
“The Daily Show can keep them in check,” I suggested. By his knowing laugh, I submit that the Justice agreed with me.
I had the feeling that Stevens trotted out the commonly voiced concerns about cameras in the Court not because he believed in them, but rather because he wanted to hear how easily a young Court watcher could swat them away. It is disappointing that the Court’s reluctance to televise its oral arguments stems from its lack of faith in the Bench and Bar to behave themselves in front of the cameras.
As the event began and the panelists began recounting their stories of Justice Stevens’s “humble, devastating, and kind” demeanor from the bench, as former Solicitor General Paul Clement aptly described it, I kept thinking how tragic it is that the vast majority of Americans never had a chance to see Justice Stevens in action.
At the end of each oral argument week, starting today, the Court is releasing the audio recordings of the week’s proceedings. These recordings invite listeners to listen for themselves to how the Court deals with the country’s thorniest legal issues. But as exciting as it is to hear Justice Kagan’s first question of her career, Justice Scalia do his best “Sh*t My Dad Says” impression with his various curmudgeonly comments, Justice Ginsburg re-upping her feminist cred, or Justice Alito unwinding his increasingly compelling hypotheticals, we are many years removed from the radio days of Justice Stevens’s youth.
For every argument that the justices will spin out of control and play to the cameras, there are forceful answers in return. First, some justices already play to the portion of the public that can attend, so what’s the damage if the rest of America sees their antics? The law should be engaging, not forbidding, and there’s much to be said for Chief Justice Roberts’s more relaxed, laugh-tracked regime, even if a few commentators here and there will take some hypotheticals out of context.
Second, televised proceedings will allow more Americans to know the names and faces of Supreme Court justices. As public servants who now undergo major media blitzes upon their nominations to the bench, the justices should not feel entitled to perpetual anonymity. And really, most Americans, though valuing the opportunity to watch the Court in action, will not commit themselves to C-Span three days a week so to better track the justices down in their Northern Virginia supermarkets.
Finally, part of the in-the-flesh experience of Supreme Court arguments is not only watching the justices speak, but also watching them listen. Several panelists at today’s symposium expressed their deep appreciation of Stevens’s ability to listen patiently and politely to the arguments as the other justices’ seemed preoccupied with internally formulating their next questions. These scenes cannot be conveyed over audio. From Justice Thomas’s brief-thumbing to Justice Ginsburg’s trained stare at the advocates, the justices’ listening styles may speak as loudly as their amplified voices about their commitment to the case before them.
Until that day arrives when we can watch the justices go about their business, however, today’s footage from their class photo session will have to suffice.
Let’s hope that these nine men and women, all of whom, like Justice Stevens, are or will be national treasures by the time their tenures have expired, will soon show enough faith in themselves and the public to finally put cameras in the Court.
This piece has been cross-posted at The CockleBur.