Dan Markel is "singularly unimpressed" with the arguments in favor of prohibiting newspapers from editorializing about pending cases before the Supreme Court:
Over on Balkinization, Eugene Fidell has a post expressing sympathy with the idea that newspapers and others should forbear from trying to influence the Supreme Court on the same day that the Court is going to hear oral arguments in a case. Fidell seems to be persuaded by the gist of this student note in the Stanford Law Review, which raises ethical concerns with "ex parte blogging."
With no disrepect to the competent job in the student Note, I find myself boggled at the suggestion that newspapers or other writers (including legal bloggers) should abjure from weighing in on matters before the Court.
Part of the concern raised by the Balkinization post appears to come from editorials on the day of oral argument:
Times editorial advice to the Supreme Court has, in fact, flowed very freely–increasingly, I believe, on argument days. For example, on October 6, 2009, in Animal Cruelty and Free Speech, the editorial page advised the Court to affirm in United States v. Stevens (No. 08-769), a case that was to be argued that same day. The following day, in The Constitution and the Cross, an editorial gave the Court advice on how to decide a case to be heard that day involving a cross that had been erected on federal land by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The same thing happened on February 23 and 25 and March 2 and 24, when editorials titled Justice for American Indians, And Unequal Justice for Some, The Right to DNA Evidence, and Corporate Money and Campaigns ran. On January 9, November 4, 12 and 25, and December 10, 2008, editorials on The Court and Voter ID’s, The Court and ‘Fleeting Expletives,’ A Case of Religious Discrimination, Indefinite Detention, and Accountability and the Court all appeared on the day of oral argument.
Sounds like a lot.
I assure you, the Justices don’t care.
How do I know? Because the Justices don’t care much for what even the parties to the case have to say on the day of oral argument:
Oral arguments are normally conducted during October through April. A 2-week session is held each month with arguments scheduled on Monday through Wednesday of each week. Unless the Court directs otherwise, each side is allowed one-half hour for argument. The Court generally hears argument in 2 cases (hours) each day beginning at 10 a.m. and adjourns after the argument in the second case ends, usually around noon. If more than two cases are to be argued in one day, the Court will reconvene at 1 p.m. to hear the additional arguments.
That’s from the Supreme Court’s own "Guide for Counsel in Cases to be Argued," which helpfully points out that 30 minutes may in fact be too much:
Your argument time is normally limited to 30 minutes. You need not use all your time. Counsel for the respondent in Whitfield v. United States, 543 U. S. 209 (2005) argued for only 10 of the allotted 30 minutes. Counsel for the respondent in Burgess v. United States, 553 U. S. ––– (2008) argued for only 7 of the allotted 30 minutes. Both respondents prevailed in unanimous decisions of the Court.
"Respondent" in Whitfield and Burgess was the United States government; the "Petitioners" there, both criminal defendants, did not pass Go, did not collect $200, but instead went straight to jail after combined oral argument shorter than a sitcom.
I digress. The bigger problem with the argument raised by the Student Note (Ex Parte Blogging: The Legal Ethics of Supreme Court Advocacy in the Internet Era, 61 Stanford L. Rev. 1535 (2008)) and the Balkinization post is that both miss the forest for the trees: the primary utility of such posts, articles and editorials on the day of oral argument is not to influence the Court but to influence everyone else.
When else — other than the day of oral arguments — are these arguments timely and interesting? When else can the raw power of the Supreme Court and the scope of its reach be highlighted for the hundreds of millions of citizens who have not a clue what the Court is doing this year? Even lawyers don’t stay on top of the Supreme Court’s docket; most of them learn of pending issues from their newspapers, from these day-of-argument editorials. The same goes for elected representatives.
But we are to ban this practice, one of the few ways we as a society have of keeping aware of what an entire branch of our federal government is doing because maybe, just maybe, 700 words in the newspaper will dislodge the Justices’ decades of education, training, experience and ideology?
More on this subject tomorrow.