Supreme Court remains oblivious to social media

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WASHINGTON -- Chad Griffin, a gay rights advocate, has arrived twice this month at the Supreme Court with his bags packed, ready to fly off to a rally if the court rules on same-sex marriage.

Ted Olson, a veteran lawyer who argued the case, will be sitting in court today, just in case. And Lisa Blatt, a Supreme Court litigator, is one of many Washington court-watchers who will be eagerly refreshing her Web browser.

With just days remaining in its 2013 schedule, the court has left dangling its considered opinions on gay marriage, affirmative action and the nation's voting rights laws.

"We all crave information instantaneously," said Ms. Blatt, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter who has argued 33 cases before the court, including one that is still pending this year. On June 17, and again Thursday, she found herself scouring legal blogs, looking for whatever clues might exist.

In a city beset by leaks the high court's annual rulings remain stubbornly opaque until they are handed out (on paper, first) by the court's public relations staff.

Meanwhile, the nine justices have the luxury of appearing publicly oblivious to the swirl of social media, the angst of Washington's legal community and the voracious appetite of America's 24-hour news cycle.

Many Washington institutions are making the high-tech transition; even the chairman of the Federal Reserve holds regular news conferences now. But like the Kremlinologists of the Cold War, who deduced power struggles by a leader's presence on the Red Square reviewing stand, modern-day court watchers can do little more than speculate about when and how the court might rule.

"You never know when it's going to come down," said Mr. Olson, a former solicitor general who would know, if anyone would. A court observer for decades, he has shown up on each of the last three decision days at the court. "I just try to prepare for anything."

Mr. Griffin is the founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization that filed the legal challenge to Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Four times in the last two weeks, the court has issued decisions in other cases but not about that law's constitutionality. Each time, Mr. Griffin has returned home and unpacked, lest his suits become wrinkled.

Today, Mr. Griffin will return once again, joined by the four plaintiffs in the case, who plan to stay in Washington until the high court rules, before they return home to California. If the court overturns the ballot initiative, the couples hope to have a wedding ceremony as soon as possible.

The Web is ready, too. A year ago, in the minutes before the court announced its decision on President Barack Obama's health care law, Twitter users posted more than 13,000 messages a minute about the court. (By comparison, there were 160,000 a minute at the height of the presidential debate in Denver last year.)

The court's term is dwindling fast. The schedule calls for a round of rulings today, and court observers believe the justices may issue decisions on Wednesday and Thursday as well.

There has been speculation of a July 1 session, though Chief Justice John Roberts is scheduled to teach a class on the history of the Supreme Court in Prague on July 2.

nation


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