NOTE TO READERS: Ordinarily, this blog does not deal in ”scoop” journalism, although we have been known to be first on some things. We focus more on what the Court does than on whether the Justices have good manners or like each other, or on what they do in their free time. Now and then, though, someone else’s “scoop” comes along, and seems to come from inside the Court — giving it apparent credibility — and appears to have the potential to affect the way the Justices actually work together. This post is about such a story.
The Supreme Court Justices are scattering from Washington this week, perhaps in pursuit of a respite not only from a heat wave, but also from the rigors of a very difficult Term. The atmosphere that set in after they closed the Term on Thursday instantly became rather rancorous. And a contributing factor was a single news story. As the Court’s summer recess unfolds, it may become clear whether this news story has staying power, or whether it will be forgotten by October. If it is not forgotten, it may make life more difficult within the Court, perhaps for some time to come. It might even bring a crisis of leadership for Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
The story appeared on CBS-TV, and on its website, last Sunday. Reported by on-air correspondent Jan Crawford, the story was carried on the network’s web address under this headline: “Roberts switched views to uphold health care law.” The story said it was based upon “two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations” that led up to the health care decision. It also referred to those sources as “knowledgeable.” No doubt to disguise the identity of its actual sources, it said that word of Roberts’s “switch” was “known among law clerks, chambers’ aides and secretaries.” But teasingly, it implied at one point that it had a quote from ”one justice,” and talked about Roberts having “stirred the ire of the conservative justices.” Someone inside the Court, the story appeared to be saying, had been talking.
It may have been the result of the enterprise of the reporter, the initiative of one or both of those “two sources,” or perhaps a combination. (Reporters often follow a two-source rule, not wanting to go with only one, but the reader and listener can never be sure just how close to actual involvement a claimed source was.) Someone “with specific knowledge of the deliberations” sounds quite authoritative but, without more, the story has to be taken partly on faith, even if one assumes the reporter had no personal agenda in the project.