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Journal Unbound

At last year’s Symposium in Celebration of Justice John Paul Stevens, sponsored by the Georgetown Law Journal, the recently retired jurist informed me that he knew my work.  I was in my final semester at Georgetown, not a member of the Journal, and never once published—nor intended to publish—a student note in any law review.  Rather, the symposium’s nonagenarian of honor had read my blog.

Justice Stevens has stated that he knew it was time to retire when he stumbled over some words while summarizing from the bench his epic dissent in Citizens United.  But within the Court’s remarkable debate over the merits of the case, another remarkable thing happened: both Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion and Stevens’s dissent made reference to blogs as akin to books and pamphlets in their ability to impact political reality.  In so doing, the Court debuted the word “blog” into the United States Reports.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John G. Roberts has gone on the record as a skeptic of the printed law review’s utility beyond the academy.  In comments this summer to the Fourth Circuit Conference, the Chief said:

Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.

This caricatured description of the bound quarterlies’ contents provoked a flurry of commentary in the blogosphere, where journalists and academics countered the Chief’s take.  For example, Ken Jost, CQ Researcher’s Supreme Court Editor and former EIC of GLJ (and, I understand, a fellow Ipsa Loquitur introductory blogger) noted the dissonance of the Chief’s views, which came on the heels of the Court’s decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a case that made ample reference to the late Professor Richard Nagareda’s 2009 NYU Law Review article, “Class Action Certification in the Age of Aggregate Proof.”

I do not highlight this disagreement to take sides, even if I do have my prejudices.  Rather, I believe the Chief’s comments, coupled with the recognition of blogs in Citizens United, set the stage quite nicely for the launch of Ipsa Loquitur.  If executed well, Ipsa Loquitur can defy the Chief’s stereotype of law journal content by relentlessly reporting, analyzing, or even creating the moment’s most engaging issues in law, policy, and politics.

And this is where my happy meeting with Justice Stevens comes in.  He learned of my blog not because of any affiliation with a top-tier law school.  Rather, he knew my blog because it had a distinct identity that attracted readers and made for memorable coverage of and commentary on the Supreme Court.  Indeed, law school rules don’t apply on the blogs.  Here, no one cares about rankings or GPAs or resumes.  The Main Journal masthead won’t impress info-hungry Internet trawlers looking for something worthwhile in their RSS reader.  In this world, the strength of a governing idea—an identity, a purpose, a personality, an angle—is what separates the must-reads from the ether-shouters.

The challenge, then, for Ipsa Loquitur is to figure out how to separate its guiding purpose and values from that of a law journal.  Whereas GLJ’s existence is justified by staffing itself with bluebookers who aced 1L and making up for its limited readership with future citations in the U.S. Reports, Ipsa Loquitur must look beyond the journal office to identify its writers not by their statistics but rather by their voices.  Without such personalities whose words can ring throughout the legal community and into the greater blogosphere, Ipsa Loquitur will become just another law journal’s online supplement masking its milquetoast nature with a cute and clever name, and will suffer from the very irrelevance that the Chief has attributed to its printed parent.

But as a Georgetown Law alumnus, I know that one can’t go three feet on campus without encountering someone wonderfully worked up over something happening somewhere in the world.  Give those people a platform and Ipsa Loquitur will succeed . . . and still have space for an online colloquy promoting the upcoming GLJ issue’s lead article presenting a Rawlsian interpretation of the Coase Theorum’s impact on the adjudicative systems of uncontacted Amazonian tribes.

Mike Sacks L’10 is current the Supreme Court reported for The Huffington Post. He created and maintained First One @ One First, a Court-watching blog.