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Law blog panel discusses future of Supreme Court, journalism

Aaron Hale

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By Aaron Hale |
September 23, 2013
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News junkies interested in law, politics, journalism and digital technology saw a different side of the U.S. Supreme Court during a Sept. 9 forum at the Richard B. Russell Building centered on SCOTUSblog.

Panelist Tom Goldstein, the co-founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog, described the website as a "comprehensive information source about one topic"-the Supreme Court.

"We're completely fan-boy obsessed with it," Goldstein said.

SCOTUS is an acronym for Supreme Court of the United States. SCOTUSblog is a website featuring contributions from legal experts and journalists on the Supreme Court and issues coming before the court.

SCOTUSblog was recognized this year with a George Foster Peabody Award, making it the first blog to win such an honor.

The Peabody Awards, housed within the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and webcasters, producing organizations and individuals.

In recognition of the award, the Grady College and the School of Law hosted the forum as a way to delve deeper into a number of topics relevant to SCOTUSblog and the topics it covers.

The forum featured Goldstein, who-in addition to serving as SCOTUSblog publisher and contributor-has argued 28 cases before the Supreme Court; Amy Howe, an attorney, constitutional law professor, and co-founder and editor of SCOTUSblog; Pete Williams, an NBC News correspondent covering the Justice Department and the Supreme Court; Tony Mauro, a 31-year veteran journalist of the Supreme Court, who currently writes for several print and online publications; and Janet H. Murray, a Georgia Tech professor and member of the board of directors for the Peabody Awards.

Jeff Jones, director of the Peabody Awards, moderated a discussion about the blog and its rise to prominence.

It was only a few years ago that blogs hardly were taken seriously as sources for news and commentary.

SCOTUSblog has helped change that dynamic, Jones said.

Over time, the blog has evolved into what it is today: a site read by lawyers, justices of the court and law professors. The site and its founders are also useful sources for news reporters.

"It has enormous credibility," said Williams, a veteran TV correspondent, who also praised the entrepreneurial spirit of Howe and Goldstein.

Among the subjects discussed at the forum was the landscape of journalism in America given the rise of digital media such as SCOTUSblog. Bill Lee, professor of telecommunications, moderated that discussion.

Millions of Americans flocked to the SCOTUSblog­-rather than traditional media sources-to get the instantaneous news and analysis on recent major Supreme Court cases such as the rulings on the Affordable Care Act and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Murray said SCOTUSblog, a source unique from traditional media sources, is redefining what journalism is.

On the other hand, Goldstein said he admires the work of traditional media and worries about the displacement of those outlets for news.

Of SCOTUSblog and digital media's effect on the media landscape, he said, "It may cause more problems than it solves."

The forum also included a discussion, moderated by Sonja West, an associate professor of law, of cases and issues that either have come before the court recently or could in the near future.

Goldstein said topics such as abortion and religion could be on the horizon for the court.

They also talked about the political rhetoric surrounding the court's decisions, including the term "activist judge."

Mauro said there isn't much meaning behind the term anymore.

"An activist judge is a judge who rules against your point of view," he said.

Sara Wilkinson, an Athens resident who closely followed SCOTUSblog during recent Supreme Court cases, attended the event to hear from the creators of the blog.

She told the panel of her experience of reading the blog and attending the forum.

"It makes me feel like more of a citizen," she said.

"Events such as this are critical in demystifying the Supreme Court," said Rebecca Hanner White, dean of the School of Law. "Our nation's highest court is undoubtedly the least understood of our branches of government and yet it plays such an essential role in our democratic system."

Jones and Charles N. Davis, dean of the Grady College, expressed interest in future events such as this one to highlight Peabody Award winners and to offer a multidisciplinary discussion about relevant topics.

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