Amy Howe is a former editor for SCOTUSblog—today, she continues to serve as an independent contractor and reporter for them while maintaining her own publication, Howe on the Court. She has served counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there. Amy also previously taught classes about Supreme Court litigation at a variety of law schools including Harvard Law and Stanford Law.
Amy discusses the evolution of SCOTUSblog from a boutique marketing endeavor to an authoritative media entity. She reflects upon the history and staff of SCOTUSblog as well as administrative obstacles that they have overcome. Amy also touches on some big moments in recent Supreme Court history, and what sets SCOTUSblog apart from other sources on Supreme Court litigation. She explains why she runs a personal blog in addition, how the two differ, and wraps up by offering some advice to legal bloggers.
Here’s the full episode and, down below, we have a selection of the best exchanges:
SCOTUSblog has become so significant, and it’s evolved a lot from the days when you first launched. What was the original vision?
The original vision was honestly business development. My husband Tom and I were practicing together; it was just the two of us, and we were trying to be a Supreme Court boutique firm, and we hadn’t done any of the things that people who normally practice before the Supreme Court had done. We hadn’t gone to Harvard or Yale or Stanford, and we hadn’t clerked at the Supreme Court and we hadn’t worked in the Solicitor General’s Office. So, the way that we thought we might be able to build some business was by starting this blog that showed off how we knew about the Supreme Court. It turned out to not actually be that effective of a business development tool, but that was really what it was in the beginning. It’s hard to find some of the early posts on the Internet, but if you did, they would say something like, “look at this petition we just filed, and here’s why it’s so great.” Over the years, it developed into this public resource.
How exactly did SCOTUSblog evolve from that marketing idea to the media entity that it is now?
It was sort of gradual. I think part of it was that we realized that was not a particularly effective business development tool. I think part of that was due to the fact that the Supreme Court world is very small, and the universe of cases at the Supreme Court is quite small, and the people who are making decisions about whether to hire Supreme Court lawyers aren’t going to necessarily do it on the basis of blogs. Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty competitive environment. And so, once that once we realized that, we brought on Lyle Denniston, who was a truly great reporter and wasn’t going to stand for anything less but great journalistic standards. My title was editor until Lyle retired in 2016, and then I became the blog’s full time reporter as an independent contractor, and then we hired a practicing lawyer as editor who stepped down this year—so we just hired a new person who is also a practicing lawyer turned reporter.
While SCOTUSblog has been operating, some of the traditional sources of coverage of the Court have been drying up a little bit. Do you think that’s played a role in the popularity and leadership of SCOTUSblog?
I think that’s right. There are fewer outlets covering the Court on a day to day basis. Obviously, everybody covers the cases that are going to be on the front page of the New York Times, but SCOTUSblog covers all of them. And regarding the ones that will be headlines: SCOTUSblog covers them in excruciating detail. Aside from my 1800-2000 words on cases, which is more space than a lot of other news outlets are able to give it, there’s a symposium follows, in which people debate. Also, because it’s all we do, people from both sides of the ideological spectrum tend to trust us.
You launched your own blog in 2015. Why did you want to have one that’s separate from SCOTUSblog? How do you decide what goes there versus SCOTUSblog?
So, my press credential through the Supreme Court is for my own blog, not SCOTUSblog. The Supreme Court’s rules for press credentialing make it clear that a a blog owned by someone who is practicing at the Court does not get its own credential. In terms of writing, sometimes the content on my blog is a little more informal or is more forward-looking, like the cases that’ll be on the Supreme Court’s long conference. It kind of depends.
What’s your advice for bloggers? What makes for a good blog?
Whatever you write about needs to be well-written and you need to set a relatively narrow lane. You can always widen it later, but it’s easier to cast the net narrowly and do a good job. Legal blogging has become a lot more popular. Most people who are doing it also have a day job—it’s time consuming. There are still opportunities to find niches to occupy and then you can become the expert.
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