1.) Amy Howe talked about practical steps journalists dropping in on the court for occasional stories need to take before the day of the session, the day of the session, or afterwards. (Her thoughts were also distilled in a blog post and video in 2015, in advance of the court’s term-end high-impact cases.

Before: Journalists should request day passes, sometimes a few weeks in advance. Howe also explained the different types of briefs filed in advance of arguments, as well as other ways to understand a complicated case in advance of what can be a rapid-fire argument.

During: The day of an argument or expected decision, reporters should get to court very early and be prepared to watch from a seat with a view partially blocked by a pillar. It helps to listen to audio recordings of other arguments so you can recognize the justices’ voices. And be prepared for old-fashioned note-taking: No recording devices, phones or laptops are allowed in the court.

After: Reporters should sign up for the email list to get transcripts of arguments (they are typically released on Friday of a court week), and then prepare to wait for the decision. The day of a decision, speed is the mandate – both how quickly a reporter can read and understand a decision and how quickly they can file a story.

2.) As a reporter with regional responsibilities, Michael Doyle uses Washington-based courts to find stories that will appeal to readers in local newspaper markets, and he described his daily and weekly routines to check various courts, including:

  • Military courts, such as the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles cases from personnel based around the globe. The military courts, he said, are full of stories of human drama and are rarely tapped by journalists – meaning an enterprising reporter can often be first to report a story.
  • The Court of Federal Claims, which handles contractual disputes and certain other complaints against federal government actions. He checks it every day, finding something newsworthy maybe once every three weeks. “You can spend three minutes cruising through the Court of Federal Claims and find a story enough times to make it worthwhile,” he said.
  • The Tax Court and Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which sometimes lead to stories, although the decisions tend to be fairly technical.
  • The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which handles high-profile cases that often involve rulemaking and other actions by federal agencies. The court releases decisions on Tuesdays and Fridays.