Should the Supreme Court be on social media?

The high court today issued two major rulings on gay rights as an eager nation waited. Tweets would have spread the word more quickly. But the author says: Not so fast…


The old saying that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” applies appropriately to the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and their conspicuous lack of social media use.

This became evident this week as it struck down a provision of the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits—like Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns—to same-sex couples who were legally married. The top court also halted an effort to reverse a lower-court ruling that struck down California’s Proposition 8. Those decisions, like rulings dating back hundreds of years, came out on paper.

It’s no longer a novelty that social media has changed the way many organizations and the media do business, from the president to municipal officials. But for the U.S. Supreme Court, the final arbiters of the country’s most pressing and controversial issues, sending rulings in 140-character tweets just doesn’t cut it.

Decisions by the high court, such as those issued today, are handed down pretty much as they’ve always been: written rulings posted without notice nor prior missives indicating timing or outcome. Once rulings are issued—distributed in paper form simultaneously to interested parties—the decisions set social media afire as news spreads and pundits weigh in.

This week is no different, even as the world of social media eagerly awaited decisions on the controversial topics.

The Supreme Court, at least in its most classic sense, is charged collectively and individually with being thoughtful researchers weighing multiple issues and legal precedents when coming to decisions. No issue can be described in short form, and repercussions from the rulings often nestle between the lines of the multi-page opinions.

There’s an online cottage industry predicting when rulings will come and what they mean once they are handed down. The last thing we need is to have tweets from justices offering an inside look behind the hallowed body’s closed doors.

In a New York Times blog this week, legal experts lamented the “analog” ways of the court.

“We all crave information instantaneously,” Lisa Blatt, a Supreme Court litigator, told the Times. “People are dying to know something that they can’t.”

This deliberative, leak-free process of the Supreme Court continues to make sense, and hopefully it will do so long into the future.

Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.

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