When Justice Steven Breyer was confirmed in 1994, only one in seven Americans had ever been online. Internet Explorer 1.0 didn't hit the market until 1995, after all. Today, there are somewhere around 14 million blogs according to Technorati, and 58 million Americans say they email on a daily basis. People with desk jobs and nearly all students can have daily access to the Internet, and most have it right in their homes.
The Internet has changed American life in countless ways, but we're only just now seeing how it can impact something as archaic and traditional as a Supreme Court nomination hearing. This is an exciting blend of history and future, like the IM Pei addition to the Louvre.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern about the role of the Internet and bloggers just days after Judge John Roberts was nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In fact, Sen. Edward Kennedy was quoted in U.S. News & World Report expressing frustration that "They've got more information than we do."
Some have even alleged that the White House may be deliberately feeding information to the blogs that support the President in order to disseminate positive information or use the blogs as a sounding board for possible nominees.
On the day that Roberts was announced as the man for the job, there was a flurry of blogging about Edith Clements. The conservative blog Redstate.org had even gone so far as to say that sources told them it would be Clements, prompting the mainstream media network ABC News to force a denial from a White House source.
In the meantime, most media outlets were frantically scrambling to find information on Clements and book all of her former clerks, nannies, and schoolteachers. The joke was on us.
Not to say that the Administration intentionally floated out a false lead to keep us off of Roberts' tail for awhile, but it's not as if that would be an unprecedented move.
In 1971, furious over a leak of potential Supreme Court candidates to The New York Times, President Richard Nixon instructed Attorney General John Mitchell to float out some bogus names to keep both the media and the American Bar Association off the trail for a while. His real choice ended up being William Rehnquist, the man for whom John Roberts would clerk and now be named to replace.
It is entirely possible that such a strategy could be used today, and blogs are the new telephone game.
As for these hearings, the bloggers have been on their marks and ready since Justice O'Connor announced her retirement. Some blogs like SCOTUSblog and Blogs For Bush are “live blogging” the events. That essentially means they have bloggers standing by, watching every second of the hearings and even some stationed outside to monitor the protests. These blogs give a blow by blow of events as well as commentary.
Some bloggers like Randy Barnett of Volokh and Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit are not just opinion men, but law professors with deep knowledge of how the Court works. Both of these men have published op-eds in mainstream papers like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but provide daily commentary on their blogs.
And there is, of course, gossip on the Web. Not quite as exciting as the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie variety, but websites like Underneath Their Robes gather great dirt from clerks and former clerks to shed light on the process. On Monday several bloggers were commenting on O'Connor hiring a clerk for the term. This indicates to them that she is in no hurry to leave her spot vacant and will likely wait it out until her replacement-whoever that maybe-is confirmed.
It's an exciting moment in history as the Supreme Court officially enters the 21st Century. Bloggers are watching, and we're watching the blogs.