$15,000 for two minutes: SCOTUSblog preps for its ‘Olympics’

June 28, 2012

SCOTUSBlog expects 250,000 readers for its liveblog of Supreme Court opinions today - an audience that could include the president.

When President Obama learns the Supreme Court's verdict on the health reform law today, he won't hear it from one of the justices, or even one of the clerks.

The president will - like the rest of us - be watching SCOTUSBlog, a once obscure Web site whose traffic has boomed 6600 percent in the past two weeks as the Supreme Court decision on health care has neared.

“We turn on televisions and radios and computers and watch SCOTUSBlog,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a Wednesday briefing. “We all will await the decision and learn of it at the same time that you do."

SCOTUSBlog has been, for about a decade now, the place where a few hundred lawyers gather to dissect the Supreme Court decisions too obscure to make the front page. On a good day, it would get 3,000 followers when it live-blogged the decisions.

Not anymore: As anticipation over the Supreme Court ruling has built, SCOTUSBlog's traffic has boomed. It hit 70,000 last Thursday and 100,000 on Monday. This morning, its owners expect 250,000 visitors, one of whom may be the president himself.

“For two minutes, we’re producing the Olympics,” says SCOTUSBlog founder Tom Goldstein, a lawyer who has argued in front of the Supreme Court about two-dozen times. “We’re trying to act like it.”

To that end, SCOTUSBlog has invested $15,000 on additional server space to handle today's decision. A third-party technology vendor has warned that the site may be a likely target for hackers, given its high traffic, and will be on-hand for any such emergencies.

The SCOTUSBlog liveblog, normally a two-person operation, will have seven staff members who will be “in position” by 8:15 a.m., a full two hours before the decision is expected to come down. Because the health reform ruling is expected to be complex - it deals with four, separate legal questions - SCOTUSBlog has four lawyers on hand to decipher it. They will be checking over all live blog posts.

It's all in service, Goldstein says, of achieving one ambitious goal: Breaking the news of the Supreme Court's health care decision.

“The TV people out front literally won’t have it for about two minutes,” Goldstein says. “After they hand it to Lyle, I expect 25 seconds after that, we’ll have it on the live blog. I would be surprised if the Associated Press can beat us.”

Lyle, who he mentions, would be Lyle Denniston, the site's 81-year-old blogger who has earned a bit of Internet celebrity for his dispatches from the high court. It's his job to get a physical copy of the opinion in the public information office - where no electronics are allowed - and then dash back to his computer, where he'll read the verdict over Skype to SCOTUSBlog editor Amy Howe. She's the one who actually types in the entries.

Goldstein does not expect its traffic bump to last; he fully expects traffic to trickle off after the decision comes out. He sees the health care decision as SCOTUSBlog's 15 minutes of fame, rather than a glide path to eternal celebrity.

"I think some people might come back next term, because we'll have cases on affirmative action and gay marriage," Goldstein says. "But I don't think it will be the same huge amount. Health care is very unique and special. This catches people in a very distinct way."

 

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