This past week, much of the Supreme Court press corps was poring over the insightful and well-researched Reuters investigation, called “The Echo Chamber,” on the outsized influence of a handful of attorneys who appear before the court. It’s no surprise that many of the 66 lawyers identified in the report are also members of the Supreme Court Historical Society (SCHS).
While we’ve written here about the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Judicial Conference of the U.S., the Supreme Court Bar and other secretive institutions within the judicial branch, the SCHS may be the least well-known outside of Washington.
Like other membership organizations in Washington, what the SCHS offers is access – to events attended by the justices, to usually cordoned off spots in the Supreme Court building and to other high-powered attorneys who themselves may have cases before the justices. A number of them – including Carter Phillips, Ted Olsen and Seth Waxman – are not only SCHS members but also officers. And they’re part of the Reuters 66.
Just last month, Justice Kagan appeared at a Supreme Court Historical Society event to introduce a lecture on the court’s role during the Civil War. And while some SCHS events have been broadcast on C-SPAN in the past – for what is the only time you’ll ever see a news cameras inside the Supreme Court – there are no contemporaneous press reports of the events.
So, either these events are not newsworthy, or the SCHS membership includes a Supreme Court press corps that enjoys its membership privileges – and wants to keep them quiet.
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.