The Supreme Press Critics
Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy take on the Fourth Estate.
Like his colleagues, the chief justice is confusing the message with the messenger. Certainly Roberts is right to say that "justices don't sit to help educate people about how the court functions." But that doesn't mean the public has no right to be educated. And since 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 is hypocritical in the extreme to criticize the constrained reporting that results. To be sure, the court now releases same-day transcripts of oral arguments, and my guess is that legal reporting will now improve across the board as a consequence. But that merely proves the point: Less secrecy makes for more accurate coverage. Whereas secret Supreme Court criticism of journalists themselves limited by Supreme Court secrecy makes for an Escher staircase.
Either the justices want Americans to understand and care about what they do in that big old white building, or they don't. It's too late to hope that citizens might just choose to tune out. And if the justices want Americans to be educated about the court, they should encourage the fullest reporting possible, recognizing that some of it will be good and some will be bad, but that more information is always better than less. The justices can keep taking swipes at the Internet, imaginary editorialists, and phantom tabloid reporters for making them look bad. Or they can recognize what makes them look even worse: themselves.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito by Carrie Devorah/WENN. Photograph of Scalia on Slate's home page by Roger L. Wollenberg-POOL/Getty Images.