Watch CBSN Live

Full Court Press

In the age of the Internet, everybody, they say, is a press critic. Even Supreme Court Justices. On Saturday, the Associated Press reports, Justice Antonin Scalia said at a panel sponsored by National Italian American Foundation that "[t]he press is never going to report judicial opinions accurately." He added:
"They're just going to report, who is the plaintiff? Was that a nice little old lady? And who is the defendant? Was this, you know, some scuzzy guy? And who won? Was it the good guy that won or the bad guy? And that's all you're going to get in a press report, and you can't blame them, you can't blame them. Because nobody would read it if you went into the details of the law that the court has to resolve. So you can't judge your judges on the basis of what you read in the press."
As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick points out, Scalia isn't the only Supreme with something to say about the press. At the same event, Justice Samuel Alito complained about the Internet's role in legal reporting, and earlier Justice Anthony Kennedy complained that editorial writers regularly "misinterpret" the court's arguments because they often don't read them.

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen tells Public Eye the comments are "disappointing but not surprising." The Justices, he writes in an email, "are so insulated from the outside world, and so sheltered from the rough-and-tumble of journalism, that they can hardly be expected to understand how difficult it is for even the most seasoned reporter to understand and accurately report what it is that the Justices have decided. Some of that blame has to go on the Justices themselves, who, with rare exceptions, write in a legalese that even Codebreakers would have a hard time following."

Lithwick, in the Slate piece, notes that the Justices "have systematically made public education more difficult—by denying video and almost wholly limiting same-day audio coverage of the court's proceedings, as well as limiting access for bloggers." It's a theme Cohen picks up as well.

"For a Court that seems to go out of its way to shelter itself from media coverage, it borders on hypocrisy for the Justices to complain about the way their rulings are covered," argues Cohen. "Until this term, for example, transcripts of oral arguments were not immediately released, which forced journalists to rely upon their hand-taken notes. I think, in the main, that coverage of the Supreme Court is better than coverage either of Congress or the White House, even though Supreme Court reporters have less access to the sources of their news and more barriers in understanding the news (in the form of dense legal opinions) when it is released."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue