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53. "One First" Turns One
To celebrate the newsletter's first anniversary, a brief reflection on why we started it; a preview of some coming attractions; and a request for those who are finding it useful
Welcome back to “One First,” a weekly newsletter that aims to make the U.S. Supreme Court more accessible to all of us.
Today’s issue has a bit of a different focus. Instead of recapping last week’s SCOTUS-related news (the only rulings of note were the Court’s unexplained refusals to (1) block a Louisiana state court civil trial against BP and two other oil companies; and (2) halt a Texas execution), or telling some historical story about the Court, the justices, or some important old decision (if you need a fix, how about Will Baude on whether Justice Black was unconstitutional?), we thought we’d use the occasion of the first anniversary of the newsletter’s launch to reflect a bit on what we hoped to accomplish—and, if we’re succeeding at all, to ask for your support heading into year two. (Among other topics in the hopper, we’ve got a great upcoming issue on the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court—and how it took a special 1879 Act of Congress to break through that particular glass ceiling.)
As we wrote when we launched “One First” last November, our goal was “to make the Court more accessible to more of us—to summarize Court-related news; to flag big (and smaller but no less important) decisions; to give non-lawyers a better understanding of how the Court actually operates as an institution (what is a “writ of certiorari,” anyway?); and to tell some of the strange-but-true stories that have come to define the Court across its 232-year history.” Much like Steve’s book on the “shadow docket,” the animating idea was to provide broader context and deeper understandings of the Court for those trying to understand how nine unelected judges have come to play such an outsized role in seemingly every contemporary public policy debate.
Right after we started, one of Steve’s colleagues asked him how he expected to come up with enough content for one (let alone two!) weekly newsletters about the Supreme Court. Well, the Court has certainly helped. If anything, events of the past 12 months have only reinforced why it’s so important to broaden public understandings of, and engagement with, such a cloistered institution. It’s not just the controversial (and, in some cases, exceedingly difficult to defend) rulings that are coming down after plenary consideration by the justices; it’s also a regular drumbeat of significant rulings on emergency applications; broader debates about the desirability and/or constitutionality of different proposed reforms to the Court (and bizarre-but-illuminating statements from justices respecting those debates); and the continuing relevance to contemporary disputes of old historical episodes that aren’t even taught in law school, let alone anywhere else. Our rough estimate is that we’ve published well over 250,000 words about the Court over the last 12 months (Steve’s book, for comparison, was 110,000).
And there’s little reason to think that this content is going to dry out. This term is shaping up to be another massively important one not just for the Court, but for the country. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine, as we head into the 2024 election cycle <shudder>, that the Court isn’t going to at least be asked to play a major role in sorting out election-related disputes both before and after Election Day, including perhaps the outcome of the presidential election itself. (As a future issue will discuss in some detail, Moore v. Harper only increases the odds of this happening.) We’ll never claim to be the best or only place to get nuanced, contextual coverage of the Supreme Court. But we certainly hope that we’re raising the level of public understanding of and interest in the institution—at a time when, in our view at least, the institution is playing, and is likely to be asked to play, an ever-expanding role in some of the biggest issues facing our polity.
All of this is to say, we’ve been heartened by the interest in, and support for, this enterprise. And we’d love to keep doing it (including the monthly “Karen’s Corner” bonus issue). That’s where you come in. We’ve built a healthy subscriber base over the newsletter’s first year, recently passing 19,000 total subscribers. And for as long as we’re able to keep putting it out, we’ll continue to make Monday’s regular surveys of the Court’s work free to anyone who subscribes. But we also have been aided tremendously by the generosity of the subset of followers with paid subscriptions—which not only unlocks the Thursday “bonus” issues, but which makes it possible for us to put the time and energy into the Monday issues, as well.
So here’s our big ask(s) heading into year two:
First, no matter your circumstances, we hope that you’ll share the newsletter with any friends, colleagues, or Yankees fans who might find it interesting. The greater number of folks who we can reach on a weekly basis, the more the newsletter is serving its purpose:
Second, for those who are already paid subscribers, we hope you’ll consider renewing your subscription when the time comes (which, for many of you, could be shortly). And if you’re looking for other ways to support the newsletter, the holidays are coming; we offer gift subscriptions, too. :-)
Finally, for those who are not yet paid subscribers, we hope you’ll consider a paid subscription if your circumstances would permit it. Paid subscriptions don’t just give you access to the Thursday bonus content; they also help to make it easier for us to continue putting out two complete (and, we hope, meaningfully distinct) newsletters each week.
In all events, we really are grateful to all of you for your support of “One First” to this point. We’ve been humbled by how well it has done and how widely it is being read. And we look forward to another year of what we hope is timely, informative, and, at times irreverent coverage of the “Highest Court in the Land” (and some other stuff, too).
Happy Monday, all. We hope you have a great week!