While Chief Justice John Roberts is clearly the head of the Supreme Court, it’s important to remember that he also oversees the entire federal judiciary, comprising 13 circuit courts of appeals, dozens of district courts, the federal defenders service, various bankruptcy courts and numerous policy and administrative bodies.
In the Supreme Court building, on the basement level, is the Supreme Court press office, which also reports to the chief justice. Credentialed reporters are assigned cubicles, from which they read opinions and file stories. The court artists even have some space in which they fill in drawings from the day’s hearings.
The press officers of the court have adjacent offices, where they do their work and hand out copies of the opinions that are issued to the press. Being a press officer here must be a challenging position – instead of there being one principal, there are nine, each with a unique public persona.
But all nine justices, including the chief justice, appear in public from time to time – teaching a class at a law school, commenting on the significance of a historical event or lecturing at a law society on a certain legal theory.
The justices are all affable and learned, and the public would appreciate the opportunity to hear from them more often. In the new year, we hope Chief Justice Roberts makes a call down to the basement, and the press office begins advising the media when a justice is to make a public appearance.
While the White House and many congressional offices each day release the public schedules of the President and members of Congress, respectively, the Supreme Court refrains from giving advanced notice of when a justice is appearing in public for a lecture, seminar, or other event. And sometimes, when a justice appears in public, he or she goes to great lengths to ensure a speech or panel discussion is not recorded or broadcast. Further, it’s not always clear from a justice’s annual financial disclosure report who paid for their travel to and lodging for said event.
Fix the Court is calling on the court to advise the press of the justices’ public appearances (i.e., not vacation or other personal dealings) outside of the court, allow media coverage of most of those appearances like other top government officials and be more forthcoming about their travel benefactors in their disclosure reports.