SCOTUSblog Founder Speaks to Chicago Students After Contest Win

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
November 14, 2012

Chicago Law students get to hear a lot of remarkable people speak, but rarely do they get to direct the content of the speech the way they did with Tom Goldstein, publisher and co-founder of SCOTUSblog (Supreme Court of the United States Blog). Goldstein spoke at the Law School on October 16 as a reward for the Chicago Law student team winning the blog’s Supreme Court prediction contest. Five students, all in the Class of 2012, beat out teams from other top law schools and even the SCOTUSblog experts in predicting the outcome of last term’s cases.

Goldstein started his speech by asking students to fire off questions on whatever subject they’d like. He melded eight questions on diverse topics into a seamless speech, on the spot, without the benefit of notetaking. Goldstein, who also teaches at Harvard and Stanford law schools, is used to thinking on his feet – he has argued 27 cases before the Supreme Court, where quick-wittedness is a must to answer the difficult questions justices throw at him.

During the speech, Goldstein talked about the founding of the blog, which he did on a “whim,” he said, because of his deep knowledge of and interest in the Supreme Court.  

“The blog failed as a business development opportunity” but has become a valued public service, he said, and is now sponsored by Bloomberg Law. For example, on Monday, Oct. 15, a day with no court activity, the blog had 90,000 page views. He said up to 2,000 hits a day come from the Supreme Court alone, but that the court still won’t give SCOTUSblog an official press pass. And in June, on the day of the Affordable Care Act decision, which many news outlets reported inaccurately, SCOTUSblog correctly revealed the ruling for 5.7 million hits that day.

One student asked him to share his most embarrassing moment before the Supreme Court. Goldstein told an anecdote about his enthusiastic use of an antiquated form on the table in front of him in Bush v. Gore (2000), where Goldstein sat as second chair on Al Gore’s side. Apparently, the form, to request records, was placed there in the 1950s but was never used. Goldstein used it repeatedly, causing Chief Justice William Rehnquist to suggest that, “Goldstein can do his own damn research,” Goldstein recalled, inspiring loud laughter from the students.

He explained that his strategy in oral advocacy before the Supreme Court is not to change everybody’s mind or think he can inform the justices. They have done their homework, and so all you can do is try to have a conversation, and not an argument, he said.

You want to convince them, “they’re absolutely completely right, and that means we win,” he said. He tends to focus on one or two subissues and “go vertically deep on it,” in the hopes of persuading a justice in at least a small way to his point of view.

A student asked Goldstein if he thought that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would find itself before the Supreme Court this term. Goldstein said yes, as would California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state in 2008 and was later overturned by a federal appeals court.  

But Goldstein said he doesn’t think this is a good time for same-sex marriage advocates to bring their fight to the Supreme Court, given its current make-up. His strategy would be different, he said: “I would be fighting legislatively to get to 20 of the states,” allowing gay marriage. Nine states allow it now.

Another student asked Goldstein about finding a job. He acknowledged that the market is difficult, but reassured the students that their Chicago JD would be an extra asset for them. He advocated for optimism and networking, which he said got him all his jobs.

“Even though there are 62 bazillon lawyers in America, they all know each other,” he said. “The market is improving. The economy is improving…you’re going to be part of the upswing.”

Brittany Gorin, ’15, called Goldstein her favorite lunch speaker so far.

“He was really informative and funny and real,” she said. And even though she’s only a 1L, she’s caught onto Goldstein’s lesson about jobseeking, which was also driven home at Orientation.

“It seems to be a theme so far – networking is really important,” she said.