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Blog Sees Success In Supreme Court Focus


This Thursday, when the Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling in the health care case, many fingers will be anxiously clicking on the website ScotusBlog. It'll be live blogging starting at 8:45 in the morning, even though opinions don't come down until 10.

ScotusBlog was started in 2003 by lawyer Tom Goldstein, who's argued many cases before the Supreme Court. And he joins me to talk about his website and how it works.

Tom, welcome back.

TOM GOLDSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And let's walk through the mechanics. Thursday morning, 10:00, assuming the health care ruling does come down, how does ScotusBlog get the news and spit it out almost instantaneously?


GOLDSTEIN: Well, we're in an unusual situation. All of the really experienced reporters including, for example, Nina Totenberg for NPR, need to be up in the courtroom where they are listening to the decision and maybe any dissents. And that leaves a huge gap. The Court publishes its opinion but there really isn't any discussion, any analysis of it. And even the website is on a lag of a few minutes.

So in the press room at the courtroom itself, our reporter, Lyle Denniston - who is, along with Nina, the dean of the Supreme Court press corps - grabs a copy of the opinion and at 81 will literally run to his desk and he will...

BLOCK: Eighty-one, he's 81 years old.

GOLDSTEIN: He's 81 years old and will jump on a conference call and tell us what it is the court has done, and we will type that into the live blog.

BLOCK: How soon after 10:00 do you figure your first post comes up with something substantive to say?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, Thursday specifically is going to be a little bit weird because they're probably going to decide two other important and difficult cases even before health care. So, I bet they'll start in on health care at, say, 10:20. And about seven or eight seconds after they're done, we should be able to say what happened to the individual mandate, which is really what so many people care about.

And then, we'll probably over the next 20 minutes, while they're still reading upstairs, we'll probably fill that in with another 30 or 40 posts on what happened; whether the Court had jurisdiction to decide the case, what happened to the mandate, what happens to the rest of the health care law. And then, there's a fight over the expansion of Medicaid. And we will break all of that down before the rest of the reporters physically come downstairs from the courtroom.

BLOCK: And just to clarify, when Lyle Denniston gets the rulings - the paper version of the rulings - he's not getting the health care ruling straight up at 10? He's only getting it when they started reading the ruling in the court.

GOLDSTEIN: That's right. The Court has is very strict set of procedures. And that is, when a justice starts reading an opinion, someone presses a button in the courtroom. That rings a buzzer down in the press office and they also get a phone call saying, you can release the opinion in Number X-Y. They will then hand out physical copies of the opinion.

But the rest of the press corps, except for Lyle, most of the most experienced reporters are actually upstairs listening and they're trapped. They're all but locked in that room.

BLOCK: They're trapped in that room and no cell phones, no tweeting, no texting, no nothing.

GOLDSTEIN: Oh, that's right. No computers, exactly right. It's like they are selecting a pope.


GOLDSTEIN: They are announcing a health care decision and there will be an awful lot of people sitting on that live blog.

BLOCK: Up till now, what would your biggest one-day hit number be?

GOLDSTEIN: Yesterday...


GOLDSTEIN: So when people were looking for the health care case, we had 100,000 people on the live blog and we had 500,000 hits. And now that we know basically for sure that the court is going to decide the health care on Thursday, I expect that that number will go up a lot.

BLOCK: Tom Goldstein, thanks so much and good luck on Thursday.

GOLDSTEIN: Thank you, we need it.

BLOCK: Tom Goldstein, the founder and publisher of ScotusBlog, which will be a must-read for many on Thursday or whenever the court issues its health care decision. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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