We’re Here for the News

The Supreme Court press corps has SO been waiting for this case. The constitutional test of President Obama’s health-care law is now at the nation’s highest court. (See story.) And we are no longer at the margins of the news in this run-up to the 2012 presidential election. On Monday, even though reporters expected only a one-page order related to the petitions granted, several TV cameras were set up in front of the marble-columned building and the press room was crowded. We didn’t want to just see the order on a computer screen. We wanted it in our hands.

The Court has been in a slow period for headlines in recent years, making some of us news hounds uneasy. If you began covering the Court during the 1988-89 term, as I did, when there were blockbuster rulings on abortion rights, affirmation action, flag burning, and more in a single session, you’d have certain expectations. If you wrote about the Court during the rollicking 1990s, when the big-finish month of June meant two, and sometimes even three, front-page stories a day, you’d want more high-profile cases, too.

I remember when people regularly camped out for seats in the majestic courtroom and our press corps drew a crowd twice the size as it is now. Part of that change can be chalked up to the decline of the industry but another factor is that news organizations simply think politics and other stories are more important. (Isn’t it clear now that Anthony Kennedy is more relevant than Rick Perry?!)

The series of health-care cases the justices agreed to hear over 5 1/2 hours of arguments in March are momentous. They test the power of the federal government and hit people where they live. Big questions of politics and democracy loom. A ruling could determine for decades how much power Congress has to address real social problems. In the 1930s, when the Court heard challenges to the New Deal legislation and addressed similar questions of federal power, thousands of people lined up for seats in the courtroom. Maybe they’ll be back.