Every time the Supreme Court hands down crucial opinions, tens of thousands of people follow along at the same virtual place: SCOTUSblog.
The 20-year-old website is exactly what it sounds like: A blog committed to just one thing, comprehensive coverage of the Supreme Court. Attorneys, reporters, TV anchors, and pundits monitor the site’s live blogs about court announcements to get a jump on the news. On Thursday, in fact, the site’s servers struggled to keep up with all the traffic.
SCOTUSblog has a rare combination of traits: cult-like status, hard-won credibility and widespread respect across the news world.
The site was founded by Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe, a husband and wife team who care deeply about the judicial branch. (More on that in a moment.) Right now they can sense that interest in the court is especially intense.
“In terms of waiting for several decisions that we expect to be truly historic, I would say that this June is definitely one of a kind,” Howe told me Wednesday. “We’re waiting on potentially huge decisions on abortion and gun rights, along with several other high-profile cases on religion and the environment. And with the leak of the draft opinion in the Mississippi abortion case last month, the public has really focused its attention on the Court in a way that I have not previously experienced.”
(The ruling about gun rights was handed down on Thursday morning while Howe was running the live blog. The court will issue more opinions on Friday.)
Traffic was off the charts that day. Nothing can compare to it. But this term has been quite active: Traffic this June is “significantly higher than the same period over the last five years,” Howe said.
Indeed, during the court announcement period on Thursday morning, SCOTUSblog tweeted out that the site “may be lagging or failing to load for some users, due to heavy traffic. We are working on fixing the issue.”
Goldstein said later that the site was “attacked” by digital bad actors. “It happened in the ACA year too,” he said.
A public service model
The blog has an unusual business model, which is to say, not much of a business model at all.
I asked Howe how SCOTUSblog has evolved over the past 20 years, since virtually everything else about the internet has changed during that time span.
“Like just about everyone else, the blog now has more of a focus on getting our stories published quickly — even if it’s not as lightning-fast as many news sites,” she said. “And although many of the blog’s readers are lawyers or law students, I have tried to make my coverage as accessible as possible for lay audiences.”
Accuracy and clarity are always the most important attribute — turning the site into a destination that people feel they can trust.
Over the years the site has expanded out to platforms like Twitter, TikTok and the podcast universe. “Having more ways to educate the public about the court is, on net, a good thing,” Howe said.
What make this Supreme Court term unique
On top of the blockbuster cases and the unprecedented leak, “there’s also something else going on” with this term, CNN’s Ariane de Vogue said on “The Lead” the other day. It’s the fraught political atmosphere, with fences around the courthouse and security details assigned to the justices and digital instead of in-person interaction.