By SAM HANANEL
WASHINGTON (AP) – An influential online U.S. Supreme Court news site owned by a prominent Supreme Court lawyer is being denied a press credential to cover the court itself.
The high court issued a new policy Monday governing its coveted press credentials that pointedly excludes the popular SCOTUSblog because owner Tom Goldstein also is a leading Supreme Court advocate.
But while the blog has so far fought a losing battle to be recognized by the court in its own right, the new rules appear to allow its star reporter, a 57-year veteran of Supreme Court coverage, to continue to have a front-row seat at the court’s biggest arguments as he writes for the blog.
The blog, founded by Goldstein in 2002, has sought for years to be treated like any other news organization covering the court. Yet it has long been denied a press credential because the owner and publisher also regularly argued cases before the justices.
That conflict loomed large as the court updated its credentialing process for the first time in nearly 40 years. Under the new policy, to qualify for a press pass, a journalist cannot practice law before the court and must be “independent of individuals and entities that practice law before the court.”
Explaining the policy, the court noted that many lawyers have entered the domain of journalism “to cultivate and promote their legal practices and affect public perceptions about how courts should rule. The mixing of professional roles raises ethical concerns.”
Until now, SCOTUSblog’s main reporter, Lyle Denniston, has used a press pass issued courtesy of a Boston public radio station for which he works only rarely. But Denniston created his own Web site and blog last month, saying he would begin posting items there about the high court while continuing to write for SCOTUSblog.
In an interview, Goldstein noted with a chuckle that the new site appeared “coincidentally” just ahead of the court’s new press policy.
“Because our reporter is an independent contractor, he’ll get a press credential, which is a practical solution,” Goldstein said. The new credential would be for the new blog.
While the new policy requires that a reporter’s media organization have been operating for two years prior to the application, Denniston could seek a waiver.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said based on the new guidelines that “it’s certainly possible Lyle could apply for credentials as an independent writer who operates a blog” as long as he satisfied the other criteria.
Goldstein said Denniston would continue not to cover cases for SCOTUSblog in which Goldstein or his law firm is involved. But he said Denniston could write about those cases for the new blog, www.lyldenlawnews.com .