capitol hillIn May, I shared the story of SCOTUSblog’s appeal of its denial of press credentials from the U.S. Senate Press Gallery. This week, SCOTUSblog’s press credentials were denied again.

The Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery (i.e., the group of journalists who are in charge of approving and denying Capitol Hill press credentials) unanimously affirmed that it will not change its April 2014 decision to deny press credentials to SCOTUSblog. In a letter to SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein, the committee explains that SCOTUSblog failed to meet the requirements to obtain a congressional press pass in three ways:

1. The rule says the publication must be editorially independent of any institution that lobbies the federal government. At the meeting and elsewhere, law-firm partner Thomas C. Goldstein said he controls the editorial direction of the blog and determines areas of coverage. At the same time, Mr. Goldstein advocates before the Supreme Court, which is a form of lobbying the federal government.

2. The publication must be editorially independent of any institution that is not principally a general news organization. That means SCOTUSblog would need to be editorially independent of Mr. Goldstein and the firm, Goldstein & Russell, because neither is principally a general news organization.

3. For SCOTUSblog to be editorially independent of Mr. Goldstein and his law firm, it could not, under the rule, serve as a client-generating vehicle for either. But as recently as last year, Mr. Goldstein told the American Bar Association that SCOTUSblog indirectly accounted for 75 percent of the law firm’s Supreme Court business. Mr. Goldstein also uses SCOTUSblog as a platform for publicity material about himself, making the blog part of his personal brand.

While it’s certainly not a secret that many media organizations (including some of the biggest newspapers) lobby the federal government, SCOTUSblog couldn’t get around the committee’s stance on separating the law firm 100% from the blog. In its letter to Goldstein, the committee suggests that restructuring the law firm and blog could open the door to SCOTUSblog obtaining a press pass in the future, but the following problems would need to be addressed first:

The committee finds that the SCOTUSblog editorial policy did not go far enough to achieve editorial independence from Mr. Goldstein and his law firm. For a firewall to satisfy the Standing Committee, it would separate the law practice from the publication to prevent the law practice – which is an active advocate before the Supreme Court – from influencing editorial content. Furthermore, at least two people work on both sides of the firewall. Mr. Goldstein, who earns his living at the law firm, controls the blog’s editorial direction and has day-to-day story conversations with SCOTUSblog reporters. The firm manager of Goldstein & Russell also works as the deputy manager of SCOTUSblog. Three of the firm’s four lawyers are listed on the SCOTUSblog masthead. Other contributors to the blog represent clients before the Supreme Court, and the blog covers their cases without noting their relationship to SCOTUSblog. The blog and the firm share office space and resources.

No word from Goldstein and the team at SCOTUSblog as to plans for the future of the blog and its relationship with the law firm, but for now, the most popular source for news and information about the U.S. Supreme Court will be working at a disadvantage without those press credentials.

Image: Ron Cogswell licensed CC-BY 2.0