Thank you for reading The Marble Palace Blog, which I hope will inform and surprise you about the Supreme Court of the United States. My name is Tony Mauro. I’ve covered the Supreme Court since 1979 and for ALM since 2000. I semiretired in 2019, but I am still fascinated by the high court. I’ll welcome any tips or suggestions for topics to write about. You can reach me at [email protected].
Twitter is many things, but it is hard to imagine it would be a resource for information about U.S. Supreme Court history.
But Marin Levy, a Duke University School of Law professor who is an expert on the federal judiciary and courts, decided during the pandemic to do just that, showing dozens of pictures of the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, with fun facts about them. (The Supreme Court Historical Society also tweets.)
Levy’s latest gem is a March 3 Twitter thread about Justice William Brennan Jr. and how he finally agreed to hire a female law clerk after years of favoring male clerks only. Levy drew readers in with this introduction: “My heart is wide open for this story tonight … It’s about how Justice William Brennan, the liberal lion, was convinced to hire his first woman law clerk and who that clerk was. (Hint: She’s a judge now herself.)” That clerk was Marsha Berzon, now a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Levy got much praise from her followers, including one comment from Hogan Lovells partner Neal Katyal: “Amazing story. Thank you.”
I interviewed Levy about how her Twitter threads and how her project came about:
When and why did you start these Supreme Court history threads?
Between all of us, the court threads began as a lark. I study courts for a living, and had been posting various “judicial fun facts” here and there. But then one night, at the beginning of the pandemic, the mood just felt so bleak and before I knew it, I was sharing what I hoped would be a light-hearted story—about the time I tried to buy Justice [Antonin] Scalia a drink.
That was the starting point and from there I began writing weekly, or so, threads about the bench and the people who occupy it. There are so many wonderful stories out there—so many inspiring people—and it’s a true joy to get to share them each week.
Who is your target audience? And how many people have “liked” or followed your threads?
I try not to have any particular audience in mind—or I become very self-conscious very quickly! But it does seem that the threads are picked up by the “appellate Twitter” set—and they are a wonderful (and extremely witty) crowd.
Sometimes a few hundred people will like a particular thread and then sometimes, shockingly, it will be a few thousand. At the end of the day, I think many of us are drawn to learning about the trailblazers and, just as importantly, those who helped them along the way.
Have you gotten feedback from other SCOTUS nerds, historians, lawyers, etc. Any comments from justices? If I’m not mistaken, Justice [Samuel] Alito is a Duke fan and visitor.
The most gratifying feedback comes from people who say they learned something new and felt inspired by a particular story. There have been lovely comments by lawyers, other law professors, and even by a few members of the Article III club … but no justices yet!
Have you considered another format, such as turning the threads into a book?
A friend suggested the threads could be a book and I love the idea. My one hesitation is that each thread is meant to be bite-sized—something of an amuse-bouche. I’m not certain how that would translate into book form. Perhaps it works as a tasting menu? It would certainly be fun to attempt it.
Have you reached the point where you would feature current justices, or will you stay with the pre-Roberts era?
I might move closer to the present. One thing that is attractive about the past is that we tend to not be as acquainted with those figures—there is quite a bit to unearth and share. Those stories are also complete. When it comes to the present justices, it feels like they are still writing their stories.