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]
It is hard to imagine that the words “TikTok” and “Scotus” would have anything remotely to do with each other. But Katie Barlow has put them together nicely, in a way that makes the U.S. Supreme Court accessible, understandable and brief.
She is the media editor of SCOTUSblog, and in that capacity has produced rapid TikTok reports about the Supreme Court. She has worn many other hats, including as an assistant to Nina Totenberg, a stint at a law firm, a political podcast called “Words Matter,” a website about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and most recently, she launched “In the Courts,” a weekly local television news show.
She has degrees in politics, broadcasting and law, the latter a J.D. at Georgetown University Law Center. There, Neal Katyal was one of her professors. He says of Barlow, “Katie has been a superstar since her first year in law school in my class. She was always brilliant, always prepared, but most of all, always a phenomenal communicator.”
Amy Howe, co-founder of SCOTUSblog, also said of Barlow, “Katie has been the driving force in improving SCOTUSblog’s podcast and social media presence. But her work on TikTok has been extraordinary, bringing the Supreme Court to a whole new generation. Our children don’t often read SCOTUSblog, but they do watch Katie’s TikToks. Barlow took time from her busy schedule for an interview:
Tell me about your upbringing, and how you gravitated toward the law, from Georgetown to Nina Totenberg to the law firm Clifford Chance.
I grew up the daughter of two public school teachers in Georgia. I believe teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in our country, so I knew early on that I was not cut out for it. I was drawn to broadcast news from a young age doing the televised morning announcements in elementary school. When I was nine years old, my folks took me to visit Washington, D.C. We stayed right next to Georgetown Law. I was a double major in political science and broadcast news at the University of Georgia, benefiting greatly from the state’s HOPE scholarship program offering full rides to in-state students. My admissions essay for law school was about leaving the practice to translate the language of the law through journalism. Nina turned me down three times before I finally convinced her to let me intern for her during my final semester. Now, I am lucky to count her as a friend and mentor. I loved my time with Clifford Chance. It gave me an opportunity to travel the world. But they knew the moment that they hired me that I would leave them one day for journalism. Thankfully, they were supportive of my endeavors and even allowed me to begin my journalistic work while I was there.
Tom Goldstein, a co-founder of SCOTUSblog, also worked with Nina way back when, so what was it like to head over to SCOTUSblog and work with him and Amy Howe and other colleagues?
It has been great fun to work with our SCOTUSblog team including the former Totentern cadre. Amy is as kind as she is smart, and I am lucky that she has helped me navigate the career transition over the years. I’m also fortunate to work with my dearest friend from law school, James Romoser, our editor. Years ago, James and I launched a news site covering the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and now we get to cover the Supreme Court.
Now, TikTok! Did you see this as a way to explain how the Supreme Court works? How did you do that so masterfully in two minutes or less, with photos and documents galore?
I was surprised to learn that there is an audience for Supreme Court nerdery on TikTok. Shows what I know! Our followers ask smart questions, join us live for opinion announcements, and are constantly engaging with court news on the app. TikTok connects me with teachers, professors and students who use our content in the classroom. The topic doesn’t always fit into two minutes. Thankfully, the app has expanded to three-minute and even ten-minute segments.
Have you heard any harrumphs from lawyers who see TikTok as something beneath the legal profession?
Not really. I understand the frustration that some people share about reducing a complicated topic to two minutes. That’s fair. But I count it as a small victory when we reach people who might not otherwise learn about what’s happening at the court. I see the other side of that argument, though, especially as misinformation permeates the platform. This term, in addition to our standard explainers, I am hoping to combat some of the most extreme misinformation about the justices and work of the court.
On the other hand, have lawyers seen your TikTok videos as something that is a useful and positive way to tell interns, associates and clients that the law firm is cool and not so stuffy?
Yes, we have received a lot of positive feedback. We have plenty of trolls too. That’s the cost of doing business on social media in 2022.
How did the Fox5DC “In the Court” segment come about? Is there’s anything else like it in local TV news stations?
After freelancing with FOX 5DC for six months, our news director offered me a full-time position and my own show. “In the Courts” is a 30-minute legal news show that airs on Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET. It has a tone similar to some of our TikToks—lighthearted but educational. We cover as much legal news from the week that we can cram into 30 minutes. I do not believe there is any other show like it at a local station in the country. I am fortunate that FOX 5 was willing to take a chance on me and the show. Our pilot aired the night before Politico broke the leak story. We got lucky with timing. Someone tweeted at me the other day, “If you are a history teacher, you should follow Katie Barlow.” Frankly, that’s my target audience.