Last September, Balls & Strikes launched with a simple premise: that traditional legal journalism is bad, and that by refusing to treat life-tenured federal judges as unimpeachable, nonpartisan fairness robots, we could make legal journalism better. Or at the very least, not worse.
This week marks our one-year anniversary. Spiritually, though, it feels like we’ve been at it for a lot longer, given that the Court’s most recent term might legitimately be its worst in over a century. We covered all the horrific shit the justices did over the past 12 months, from ending the right to bodily autonomy in Dobbs to preserving your right to get shot in public in Bruen to fantasizing about ending some civil rights in Vega to safeguarding politicians’ right to accept legal bribes in Ted Cruz For Senate, the rare case where the name alone reveals everything you need to know about the morally bankrupt result.
That said, we also spent some quality time outside the opinion release news cycle, focusing on the messy corners of America’s legal culture that have imbued the Court with so much power in the first place. We wrote about the conservative legal movement’s perpetual martyr complex, and the Democratic Party’s dependly milquetoast responses to the conservative judicial counterrevolution, and the blizzard of coup-curious texts emanating from Clarence Thomas’s living room these days. We reported on the unsettling authoritarian thought experiments appearing in influential legal journals, and compiled databases of actually useful information about whom Biden is nominating to the federal bench, and how his choices are shifting the balance of power in courtrooms across the country. We even had more than one professor contribute smart essays to the site, an encouraging sign that legal academia is not yet beyond redemption, Noah Feldman’s bests efforts notwithstanding.
Of course, these accomplishments pale in comparison to the proverbial gold stripe on our robe sleeves: cyberbullying Stephen Breyer so ruthlessly that he had no choice but to announce his retirement. (For any conservative media weirdos desperate for post fodder who might be reading, I want to be clear that this is a joke. Probably.)
As the Court gets ready to begin its new term, we at Balls & Strikes are getting ready to blog the jurisprudential nightmares that will inevitably accompany it. Staff writer Yvette Borja is previewing the docket’s most ominous cases, which include challenges to affirmative action, Tribal sovereignty, and the controversial notion that everyone has to abide by civil rights laws, not just people who feel like it. We’ll publish more guest commentary from some of your sharpest faves, and from cool new voices from whom you can expect to hear more soon. I’ll keep sending out a weekly newsletter that begins with, for example, a gratuitous anecdote about what a vile monster William Rehnquist was, and ends with a goofy picture of Sam Alito looking like Vincent D’Onofrio trying to squeeze into his human skin in Men In Black.
Carving out a niche in legal media is tricky business. Only two dozen journalists hold “hard pass” credentials that entitle them to full-time Court access. And while technology has made it easier for people unaffiliated with legacy publications to cover the Court, aspiring journalists without track records of getting paid to write about the law still have a hard time persuading editors to pay them to write about the law, which is a big reason why the same bylines dominate the industry year after year, cranking out anodyne oral argument recaps that all end with “A decision in the case is expected by sometime in June.” Since launching Balls & Strikes, though, we’ve learned that there is a real demand for writing about the legal system that does not involve, say, John Roberts’s biographer explaining why none of the bad stuff happening at the Court is John Roberts’s fault. We’ll keep working to meet it.
Hey, speaking of the newsletter and John Roberts! To celebrate the fact that James Ho has not yet found a reason to rule that the First Amendment does not apply to Balls & Strikes, we are doing something fun. Please say hello to the exclusive, limited edition, extremely rad Umpire John Roberts bobblehead, which portrays the chief justice doing the two things he loves most in this world: pretending to be a disinterested party, and standing triumphantly over what little remains of the Voting Rights Act he’s spent his entire career working to hollow out.
We’ve sent these to friends of the project already, and over the next week or so, we’ll give some more away to a few lucky readers soon. Those details are still getting ironed out but we’ll announce them as soon as we can, so for now, if you are the sort of hopeless dork who wants a miniature ceramic lawyer clad in baseball paraphernalia of your very own, and you don’t already follow Balls & Strikes on Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter, now might be a good time to remedy those oversights.
As always, you can find us at ballsandstrikes.org, or follow us on Twitter @ballsstrikes, or get in touch via [email protected]. One more time, thank you for all your support of Balls & Strikes over the past year. Here’s to the next one.
This Week In Balls & Strikes
Texas Republicans Are Back on Their Bullshit at the Supreme Court, Yvette Borja
Our term previews continue with U.S. v. Texas, a case about whether immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the president or some FedSoc goofus in Texas.
Federal Judges Playing Amateur Doctor Goes About As Poorly As You’d Expect, Lisa Needham
Conservative judges care deeply about science, until science yields a result they don’t like.
The Supreme Court’s Latest Native Adoption Case Is About Much More Than Native Adoption, Yvette Borja
A Q&A with Erin Dougherty Lynch and David Lewerenz about the stakes of Brackeen v. Haaland, the Court’s next big Tribal sovereignty case.
This Week In Other Stuff We Appreciated
John Roberts Doesn’t Seem to Get Why Americans Distrust the Supreme Court, Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair
What the Court does matters far more than what the Court is.
This Case Before the Supreme Court Could Unravel Democracy For Decades, Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
Leonard Leo has found his latest, greatest right-wing hustle.
How Lawyers From One Giant D.C. Firm Influenced Trump’s Supreme Court Picks, NPR
Author David Enrich speaks to NPR’s Fresh Air about his new book, Servants of the Damned.