For a few days every year, Americans have to attempt to understand how the Supreme Court works — that’s what SCOTUSblog is for. The gay-marriage arguments of the last two days marked the first time since Obamacare was upheld last summer that the happenings of the court have dominated the national conversation, and the website, which is more than a decade old but gained huge amounts of acclaim and eyeballs throughout the health-care saga, was prepared. Now — and in June when the decisions come down — is their time to shine.
“Gay-marriage cases are such a thing,” publisher and contributor Tom Goldstein told Daily Intelligencer today, while hobbling around Washington, D.C., on crutches. “There’s so much interest in them, and they’re interesting.”
Yesterday, the site racked up 675,000 hits for its mix of simple explainers and wonky analysis, more than twice as many readers as the site’s next most popular argument day, when the individual mandate was discussed last year. “A lot of people learned about us from the coverage of the health-care decision, and we got some of those folks back,” said Goldstein, who doubles as a practicing attorney. “Our year-over-year traffic is about 100 percent up,” he said, thanks to days like this, but added “in the summer it’s super duper slow.”
Amid wall-to-wall coverage of the Prop 8 and DOMA cases this week, SCOTUSblog also became the first blog ever to win a Peabody award for excellence in electronic media.
But even with the site’s reputation solidified, Goldstein doesn’t think the blog will ever touch the 5 million views — including more than a million simultaneous users — it counted on Obamacare decision day. “It was just a special moment in time for us. We decided to put in place a plan for covering the decisions that was really comprehensive,” he said, including extra writers and web servers to the tune of $25,000. “In the wake of what happened with CNN and Fox,” which wrongly reported the health-care ruling, “the media is adapting. There are now organizations that are, like us, giving mid-oral-argument updates. That never happened before.”
Part of what keeps people coming back, Goldstein assumes, is the site’s willingness to speak its mind without bias. After yesterday’s arguments, SCOTUSblog tweeted to its 82,000 followers, “#scotus won’t uphold or strike down #prop8 bc Kennedy thinks it is too soon to rule on #ssm. #prop8 will stay invalidated.” And today, moments after the arguments ended, “#scotus 80% likely to strike down #doma.”
“It’s not predicting for the sake of predicting,” insisted Goldstein, who said he alone is responsible for the forecasting tweets. “If I don’t know, I won’t say, because I don’t want to look stupid, but I hate when the media just tries to cover its butt. Of course the justices ‘questioned’ the law. ‘The court is divided’ — that’s a genius-level insight!”
“If I’m wrong, you can hold me to account for it,” he continued. “The notion of 80 percent — it’s not a Nate Silver 80 percent. That’s not my point. My point is to convey that it’s very likely that DOMA will be struck down.” In the hours since the oral argument on DOMA, “I’ve gone from 80 percent to 90 or 95 percent,” said Goldstein. “My view is hardening. But it is possible that I could change my mind. That’s just not going to stop me from saying what I think at the time.”