Yesterday the Third Circuit hosted a day-long dialogue in Philadelphia about media coverage of the federal courts called Judges and Journalists. I was there all day and had the honor of presenting on one of the panels. It was a fantastic event.
The judicial turnout was strong. Chief Judge Smith and Judges Krause and Roth were there all day, and Judges McKee and Chagares were there too, along with a bevy of district-court and state-court judges. (I sat next to a judge who worked on a David Bowie sewing project all morning.)
Oral argument video
The Ninth Circuit posts videos of its oral arguments on youtube. Yesterday an attendee asked why the Third Circuit doesn’t do that, too. Chief Judge Smith responded, “Stay tuned.” Pressed by the moderator what that meant, the Chief gave a friendly no-comment. I then pointed out that the Third Circuit website already makes it easy to access audio of oral arguments. Chief Judge Smith responded, “Thank you, Matthew — but stay tuned.” Make of that what you will.
Linda Greenhouse’s keynote
New York Times legal columnist Linda Greenhouse gave the lunchtime keynote, introduced by Chief Judge Smith who described her as “truly a major figure in the law.” Her theme: judges and journalists are “in the same serious business,” both doing their best to make sure the public has an understanding of the law. When the courts and media find ways to work together in this common enterprise, she said, “everybody wins.”
Greenhouse described a Ninth Circuit judge’s shock when he learned that she’d had lunch with Justice Breyer; she said she decided to shock him some more by telling him Breyer had the Supreme Court press to lunch every year. And Chief Justice Burger held regular lunches with the Supreme Court reporters, a practice that Chief Justices Rehnquist and Roberts continued. The lunches are nuts-and-bolts conversations about what reporters need, what is the best thing the Court could do for them, etc. Greenhouse said that two recent changes — identifying individual Justices in the argument transcripts, and posting those transcripts the same day as the argument — both resulted from those lunches.
No surprise: Greenhouse is an avid How Appealing reader. When I was introduced to her before her talk as the author of this blog, she said to me something to the effect of, “Oh, yes. That’s one that Howard Bashman frequently links to, isn’t it?”
Some other highlights
- Both Chief Judge Smith and Judge McKee expressed dismay at how circuit judges are painted as political partisans. Smith (who described himself as a “news junkie”) said a pet peeve of his was when articles identify which judges were nominated by Democratic or Republican presidents, which he said serves only to imply that the decision was ideologically or politically driven. Smith said McKee was one of his very best friends, and he noted they agree on 95 percent of their cases.
- Smith and McKee (both former trial judges) also agree about how hard criminal sentencing is. McKee said its the “hardest thing judges do and number two is not even close.” Smith noted that people say ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key,’ but “people have no idea how really difficult sentencing is,” and there is “no more excruciating experience than sentencing a person.”
- New York Times assistant general counsel David McCraw discussed his recent viral letter responding to Donald Trump’s threat to sue the Times for libel for reporting two women’s accusations that Trump had touched them sexually without their consent. He said his career flashed before his eyes when he saw the Times’s CEO coming for him just after the letter was published, but the (British) CEO just said, “Brilliant, brilliant. But I’ll never understand why you Americans capitalize after colons.” He also movingly described a letter he received from Martin Luther King Jr.’s lawyer on how much it meant for the Times to stand up, then and now.
Congratulations to the main organizers — Judges Krause and Rendell, Circuit Executive Margaret Wiegand, and Chris Satullo — for a first-rate event.