Edit: We're signing off. Thank you all for your great questions!

Hi Reddit! We're Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung, journalists for Reuters who cover the Supreme Court. We recently collaborated on a series about qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that's made it harder to hold police accountable when accused of using excessive force. And we've reported on everything from the Amy Coney Barrett hearings to the role of the Supreme Court in the 2020 election and various cases before the court. Ask us anything!

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Comments: 858 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

live_zal416 karma

How do you avoid bias in reporting an area that is widely considered to be another Democrat vs Republican battleground?

reuters522 karma

It’s true that the Supreme Court is seen by many as a partisan battleground, and the last few confirmation battles have seemingly entrenched that notion. But as journalists for Reuters, we know that our reporting can appear in publications across the world, and in media of all political stripes. We also avoid bias like any journalist would, by ensuring we report accurately on what has occurred and try to explain the practical consequences of actions by the court. At the same time, we try to seek comment from the different parties involved to ensure their voices are heard. -AC

MonkeyInATopHat159 karma

Follow up: What do you say to the assertion that being unbiased benefits one side more than the other?

Do you think maintaining the appearance of objectivity favors the less ethical?

reuters264 karma

We are used to getting accusations from left AND right on occasion that this or that thing suggests bias. We have the Reuters Trust Principles that we follow, which have served Reuters well since World War Two. That history matters in terms of creating trust in our work. It’s not about an “appearance of objectivity” as Reuters will report without fear or favor. You can see the Reuters Trust Principles here: https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en/about-us/trust-principles.html -LH

BluePinky297 karma

In your reporting, do you just report on publicly available information, or do you have inside access to get stories the public would not normally see?

reuters418 karma

A lot of reporting on the court is based on court documents that are publicly available but for full-time Supreme Court reporters there are other ways of getting information. Another important part of the beat is learning about the internal procedures of the court and how to interpret for the general public things they do that might seem impenetrable to anyone on the outside. - LH

BluePinky96 karma

Can you elaborate on the "other ways"? Is it relationships with clerks, etc?

reuters214 karma

Mainly just learning about how the court operates and spending time in the building. The court is not very transparent in its operations and it takes a while just to figure out what you need to keep an eye on and when you might get a piece of paper dropping into your hand that could constitute major news. -LH

eamon9157 karma

Is there any possibility that this election could be resolved in the courts like 2000, given the controversy over mail-in/absentee ballots? If so, how do you see that process come to pass?

Edit: Rephrased some stuff

reuters262 karma

Yes, although there are lots of variables. There have already been several election-related cases that have reached the court on an emergency basis, including from key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina. The court just this week split 4-4 in a case from Pennsylvania (a loss for Republicans on mail-in voting). It is quite possible that more cases like that will be filed in the coming days and some are yet to be decided. Amy Coney Barrett, who is likely to be confirmed by the Senate on Monday, could well be on the court to decide those cases and could be a pivotal vote. -LH

sbb21487 karma

As a US Citizen I want to be informed and think critically about the US Supreme Court and it's rulings, but find myself getting swept up in polarized left/right debates. What can I do personally to think more critically about what cases they choose to take (or not) and their rulings?

reuters88 karma

Read our stories ;) There is a lot of good coverage of the Supreme Court and the press corps in general does a good job of providing relevant analysis on what’s at issue and how rulings affect people’s lives. There are also more specialized publications, like SCOTUSblog, which look at cases in more granular detail. - LH

awesomedeluxe56 karma

Lawrence, Andrew, thanks for being here! I really appreciated your qualified immunity study, and have been disappointed to see the Supreme Court dodge QI cases. I have a lot of questions, and would be grateful for any answers, so don't feel like you have to answer all of them in your response!

  • Most of the talk about qualified immunity has been around police officers using it to get away with awful stuff. But QI protects other public officials too (who also do some awful stuff sometimes). Earlier this year, the House introduced a bill that would eliminate QI for just police officers - is this an approach you support, or do you think a repeal of QI for all public officials is better?

  • If Congress eliminated qualified immunity, would you want to see it replaced by another standard of immunity for police officers / public officials, like a good faith standard?

  • How is Amy Barrett's record on QI?

  • Lastly, any thoughts on absolute immunity for prosecutors?

reuters56 karma

Most of the talk about qualified immunity has been around police officers using it to get away with awful stuff. But QI protects other public officials too (who also do some awful stuff sometimes). Earlier this year, the House introduced a bill that would eliminate QI for just police officers - is this an approach you support, or do you think a repeal of QI for all public officials is better?

It’s correct to say that qualified immunity does indeed protect public officials across the board, and though our work in this area has thus far been sharply focused on police who have been accused of excessive force, there are plenty of non-police examples. One question for lawmakers is where it is clear that qualified immunity is being used to shield from liability even those officials who have been affirmatively found to have violated a person’s civil rights, whether that official deserves such protection. I would hazard that most people you ask on the street would answer ‘no.’ - AC

reuters25 karma

Please stay tuned to our ongoing coverage of this issue. -AC

area-man-400246 karma

You have an upcoming 12 hour road trip. Which justice would you prefer to ride along with you and why?

reuters79 karma

If I had a 12-hour road-trip I would generally want to keep as far away from anything work-related as possible! - LH

BackdoorDan39 karma

How would you recommend researching bias in media sources? It's increasingly difficult to find news that is simply reporting as opposed to opinions or heavily biased.

reuters43 karma

The media landscape does seem to be awash in partisanship and propaganda. So it is important for the public to try to find sources that maintain a commitment to practicing adversarial journalism and report fearlessly no matter the subject, and to avoid media sources that are merely cheerleading one side or issue. I think Reuters is one of the most trusted news organizations because freedom from bias is ingrained in the work we do every day. It is key to the Reuters Trust Principles, which all Reuters journalists must follow, and which also emphasize integrity and independence. - AC

workingatbeingbetter31 karma

Hi Lawrence and Andrew! Thanks for doing this.

Here's my question (with more context below):

Why don't you guys (and legal reporters in general) discuss the legal context of cases and rulings in greater detail? And are you doing anything to do better on this aspect?

I'm a lawyer and moderator at /r/Ask_Lawyers, and as such I spend a lot of my time explaining and discussing various legal rulings -- particularly when it comes to U.S. Constitutional Law issues. For example, here is my analysis of SCOTUS's rejection of the challenge to PA's Shutdown Order earlier this month. As you can tell, my analysis provides quite a bit of legal context that wasn't provided in the linked article. This is my one major problem with most reporting in this area. Most articles fail to provide a good explanation of the proper legal context of a given ruling.

For example, your coverage of the South Bay case -- the case involving California's pandemic restrictions on religious institutions -- failed to discuss the legal context for the decision. The article did not mention any of the historical case law, such as Smith, Lukumi, etc.. The article not only failed to mention why Roberts chose to apply rational basis rather than strict scrutiny (like Kavanaugh suggested), but the article failed to even mention levels of scrutiny to begin with. Also, and probably my biggest pet peeve as a news consumer, the article failed to link to the Court document (which was available here). As a reader and someone who participates in this space quite actively, these missing pieces lead to reader confusion and most likely reader polarization, since the absence of a greater context and explanation thereof makes it appear as though the authors or the justices are merely shooting opinions from the hip.

I want to be clear, you are not the worst offenders on this by far. Most other media sources are generally more guilty on these matters. But this brings me back to my question: Why is the greater legal context omitted so often in articles in this field? Is it deadlines? Editor decisions? Word limits?

As an avid reader of legal articles -- particularly regarding SCOTUS -- I am genuinely curious about your response on this matter.

Thanks again for your time!

reuters36 karma

I think it’s important to remember that our stories are for a general readership including customers who need to get the news as quickly as possible and don’t necessarily want to read a detailed analysis. Generally speaking, we do get more in the weeds on major cases at the court, especially if the ruling will change the law in a way that could have big knock-on effects further down the road. At Reuters we do these analysis stories all the time. And, yes, we do have word limits and time demands that can limit how deep we can go. I would point though, to our series on qualified immunity as an example of the occasions when we really can dig in: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/usa-police-immunity/ -LH

phones_account30 karma

What are each of your backgrounds? Curious how y’all got into that role i.e. did you study law and journalism or something along those lines.

reuters49 karma

I (Lawrence) do not have any formal legal training. I have been covering legal issues for about 18 years. So I learned on the job, basically. I trained as a reporter in the UK before moving the States in 2002. -LH

I (Andrew) was a journalist in Canada before coming to the U.S. in 2014, and indeed studied journalism there. I also have a Masters degree in law from Yale. -AC

En-Ron-Hubbard25 karma

I don't mean this to be rude, but I'm sure you've been asked it before:

Do you feel that you're qualified having never practiced law, and certainly never judged? There are plenty of dissatisfied lawyers who became journalists - how do you stay on top of your game and keep them from taking your job?

reuters52 karma

No I don’t think I’m disqualified. I’ve been doing it for 18 years so I must be doing something right! There are some reporters covering the court who have law degrees but I think sometimes there is an advantage to not having that training. I am looking at the cases purely as a journalist -- focusing on the impact of rulings -- and not as a lawyer. I know from speaking to lawyers all the time that they can get bogged down in the legalese. That’s something I have to avoid at all costs. -LH

coryrenton18 karma

Who are the prime candidates for on-background or off-the-record sources: clerks, ex-colleagues, etc...?

reuters35 karma

As reporters we like to keep tight-lipped about our sources! But it’s fair to say that the court in general is seen as pretty watertight when it comes to internal leaks and we do rely a lot on outside sources including lawyers who argue cases at the court, former clerks and law professors. -LH

Herpmancer14 karma

Do you have any stories of fun or levity when the SC is in session, or is it 100% all business all the time?

reuters35 karma

The oral arguments can be pretty dull so us reporters are always on the lookout for a bit of color or wit that can make our stories more interesting. Most recently, with the court hearing cases by teleconference because of the pandemic, we made quite a bit of hay when we all heard the sound of a toilet flushing: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-teleconference/was-that-a-flush-u-s-supreme-court-handles-teleconference-experiment-idUSKBN22I301 -LH

Hepcat1010 karma

Which SC Justice do you think could eat a normal sized PBJ sandwich the fastest?

reuters12 karma

Apparently, Justice Kavanaugh likes to eat pasta with ketchup so perhaps he would be a candidate? (https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/09/05/so-brett-kavanaugh-likes-ketchup-lay-off-the-guy/) -LH

We have a winner -AC

Missus_Missiles9 karma

I personally get news-fatigue. How do you deal with a never-ending stream of things you may or may not personally agree with, without becoming jaded, and retaining objectivity?

reuters18 karma

I think it’s important sometimes to step back and switch off, which has been particularly difficult this year working from home during a pandemic and a time of general unrest. But I try to do it by reading fiction, hiking, going on bike rides and watching premier league soccer. -LH

I agree with Lawrence. I try not to look at Twitter or any social media after work hours. I exercise a lot, I try to read feel-good fiction as much as I can. And while I have never much played video games in my life, I have begun to dabble. -AC

ihearttatertots9 karma

What does it smell like in the inside of the Supreme Court?

reuters4 karma

I haven’t been there for seven months because the building is closed to the public, so who knows what it smells like now? -LH

ThaaaFudge7 karma

Is there a story that isn’t getting much traction at the moment, that you think people should be paying more attention to?

reuters9 karma

I think with all the coverage of the election/pandemic/protests there has maybe been less attention on some of the cases the court decided this year than there otherwise might have been. In the summer there were huge rulings on LGBT rights, abortion and other issues. I guess people know about the Obamacare case the court is hearing next month, but not so much about some of the other big cases the court has before it. -LH

SwingingSalmon5 karma

What’s your favorite tidbit of Supreme Court history?

Mine are the movie nights they used to have watching... adult tapes

reuters8 karma

What’s your favorite tidbit of Supreme Court history?

This is more about the building itself, but I always get a kick out of the fact that there was a network of pneumatic tubes in the old days. On ruling days, the paper copies of the rulings would literally be sent down to the reporters in the press via the tubes. -LH

LoudTsu4 karma

So from my understanding the Dems are considering packing the SC and the Pubs are writing legislation to stop them right now. Can either party do this with a Senate majority?

reuters5 karma

Here’s an explainer about court packing, and it is a matter of some debate whether another plan that is gaining traction - term limits - could be done by statute or a constitutional amendment would be needed (AC)

bi_polar2bear3 karma

Who are other reporters and news sources you respect outside of TR?

reuters8 karma

The full-time Supreme Court press corps is only about 20 or so people. Before the shutdown, at least, we would see each other all the time at the court. They are a good bunch of people and are talented journalists who know a lot about the court to boot. -LH

The members of the Supreme Court press corps are among the most talented group of journalists in the world. Some have an extraordinary level of experience that I learn from every day. -AC

a_pope_on_a_rope3 karma

There are high profile cases, and then there is the procedural and minutiae... how important is it for the average citizen to know everything the SCOTUS does? I mean, it is the highest federal court, so even the minutiae must affect our society, right?

reuters5 karma

I think the more people know the better, in theory, but there’s plenty of stuff the average person problem doesn’t *need* to know about the court. It’s part of our job as reporters to try to educate the people about what is important, partly because the court itself -- unlike high courts in some other countries -- doesn’t really do anything itself on that front. We do our best, but sometimes people aren’t paying too much attention. -LH

StoneGlassWoodMetal3 karma

What is the argument against scrapping Qualified Immunity. And does that argument hold up when we look at other countries as an example? I’ve heard Redditors argue that without qualified immunity, no one would want to be a police officer or even a high school principal. But this doesn’t seem to be an issue elsewhere.

reuters11 karma

The Supreme Court has justified its creation of the doctrine of qualified immunity over decades by emphasizing the need for public officials to be able to carry out their important duties without the constant threat and time burden of frivolous lawsuits. Also in recent months, police and a number of politicians – rightly pointing out that police have a hard and sometimes dangerous job to do - have said that without qualified immunity to protect them, officers will be dissuaded from performing their duties and departments will have a hard time recruiting. Others have said there is no evidence for these claims and that officers are already protected under the ordinary limits of the Fourth Amendment. -AC

waynewideopenTD3 karma

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue careers in legal journalism?

reuters4 karma

I guess it depends a little if you are coming at it as a law student who wants to be a journalist or a journalism student who is interested in the law … I guess on the plus side, in a world in which journalism jobs are hard to come by, there are various specialist publications covering the law that can provide a great entry into legal journalism (as they did for me). Sometimes it might seem like you are working for a very small audience but it can be great training and your stories can get surprisingly good traction within the legal profession, including among judges. -LH

ID9ITAL2 karma

What are the average years of active law decisions/rulings for successful candidates to the court? Has the average decreased over time?

How does Barrett's compare?

Thanks! This has been on my mind lately. Glad you are able to join us and lend your expertise!

reuters7 karma

There is no requirement that a Supreme Court nominee be a judge beforehand. Justice Elena Kagan, for example, never served as a judge and therefore didn’t have a judicial paper trail at all. But it’s true that most of the justices have served as judges and usually have a track record, although it varies how long they served on lower courts. Amy Coney Barrett has only served for three years. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh both served for more than a decade, for example. -LH

Dreadedvegas1 karma

With ACB taking the stand prior to the likely oral hearing in the ACA case. How likely is the precedent of Hylton v United States to be overturned again? ACB has written at some degree of length criticizing the Chief Justices ruling that Hylton even applies and that the fine associated with ACA is not a tax / duty.

How does originalists and textualist get to that logic that they can overturn the literal first SCOTUS case that was established prior to Marbury v Madison and reaffirmed in the 16th amendment after the disastrous Polluck rulling during the Lochner era?

Lastly on a separate topic, what is the likelihood of judicial reform to some degree whether that be court expansion at the SCOTUS level or vast expansion of lower court authority if the Democrats sweep the election as is currently predicted AND Dems remove both cloture and the filibuster (I'm hesitant to believe Dems can whip enough to remove the filibuster due to signalling from retirement aged Senators such as Senator Finestein)

reuters3 karma

Lastly on a separate topic, what is the likelihood of judicial reform to some degree whether that be court expansion at the SCOTUS level or vast expansion of lower court authority if the Democrats sweep the election as is currently predicted AND Dems remove both cloture and the filibuster (I'm hesitant to believe Dems can whip enough to remove the filibuster due to signalling from retirement aged Senators such as Senator Finestein)

I think this is unknown at this point. There are two different issues at play: Democrats/liberals enraged at Trump filling three vacancies and moving the court further to the right who want Democrats to add more seats to the court and less partisan reformers who think that there are other reforms that could be made that would make the court less political, like term-limits for example, and possibly a rule where each president gets to make the same number of appointments in each four-year term. If Democrats want to add seats to the court they probably would have to get rid of the filibuster for legislation and if they are going in that direction, there are other legislative priorities they have as well, like voting rights. -LH

beingginger1 karma

If Barrett is confirmed and the court strikes down the ACA, the decision won't come down until June, correct? So if Biden wins, and the Dems take the Senate, would they be able to change the ACA in such a way between January and June to make the SCOTUS case meaningless?

edit: I would love to know why anyone downvoted this.

reuters8 karma

Yes, the ACA case is being argued in November and we wouldn’t normally expect a ruling until sometime in spring 2021, although it wouldn’t necessarily wait until June. And it is true that if Biden wins and Dems have the votes, they could potentially tweak the law (by adding back the tax penalty that the Republicans eliminated) and that could make the Supreme Court case moot. -LH

ks5011 karma

What is your favorite flavor of Gatorade?

reuters4 karma

Don’t they all kind of taste the same? -LH

NeverStopWandering-1 karma

After living in Europe for some time, and my peers expressing to me how odd they find it that the president alone can make recommended appointments to the court --- I have two questions: 1) How did this come to be? 2) Have there ever been considered alternatives to electing supreme court justices? For example, from perhaps another panel of judges...

reuters0 karma

Have there ever been considered alternatives to electing supreme court justices? For example, from perhaps another panel of judges...

Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president. That is constitutionally mandated. But given the partisan rancor around the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there are now a number of proposals out there, including limiting the tenure of the justices to increasing the number of justices on the court. -AC