We reached out to editors at the New York University Law Review to ask if they could share their experience creating The Merrick Garland Project, which they launched in March 2016. The following is a guest blog post generously contributed by Alice Phillips, one of the project’s creators and an online editor at New York University Law Review.
When President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit judge Merrick Garland to fill Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, many news sources rushed to present Judge Garland’s judicial record to the public. However, much of the initial coverage was superficial, characterizing Judge Garland as a “moderate,” with few actual examples from his past decisions.
Max Isaacs, an online editor at the New York University Law Review, saw an opportunity to inform and influence the public discourse. He proposed that our department create a website dedicated to exploring Judge Garland’s judicial philosophy in depth. He suggested that we curate a selection of Judge Garland’s D.C. Circuit opinions, showing not only the conclusions Garland reached, but also analyzing how he reasoned through the problems before him. We believed this approach would provide insight into Judge Garland’s judicial philosophy and style, and would complement other resources that provide an empirical overview of case outcomes.
We created the website through WordPress, and started researching, reading cases, and generating abstracts of the cases we found most relevant. We organized the site by category, focusing on areas of the law that we believed were of most interest to the public, and that highlighted the work of the D.C. Circuit. We had no single method for selecting opinions, but gravitated towards those cases where Judge Garland wrote for a divided court or in dissent. We also selected cases that were highly cited or that had received media coverage. Within each category, we tried to represent diverse legal issues arising from a variety of circumstances. For example, in the administrative law section, we selected cases arising from the actions of eight different agencies, and relating to both the adjudicatory and rule-making contexts.
After selecting, carefully reading, and annotating each opinion, we produced short case abstracts that summarized the facts of each case, and then presented and analyzed Judge Garland’s reasoning. Once the pieces were proofed, we uploaded the abstracts with links to original, unannotated copies of the opinions from the reporters so that readers can view the primary sources for themselves if they are interested in learning more. At the completion of each section, we wrote introductions to each category, introducing the opinions, grouping them, and putting them in context.
When the Merrick Garland Project was ready for launch, we shifted our focus to promoting it. We engaged in both traditional and social media promotion, emailing the project to journalists and scholars, posting it on the Scholastica Conversation feed, and sharing it on online platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. We were delighted to receive early mentions from SCOTUSblog, Above the Law, the Library of Congress, journalists from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, law journals and blogs, and scholars from around the country.
We hope that our site will be a resource to those following or participating in Judge Garland’s confirmation process. We also hope that it encourages online editors generally to take on similar projects in the future. Because of the nature of our medium, we can contribute to the conversation in real time—we launched the site less than 96 hours after inception. We would like to see law review online departments become not just a place to publish timely legal scholarship, but a vehicle for students to develop unique online legal resources.