Monday, November 28, 2022
I love a good audiobook. In fact, I would rather listen to a book than listen to music when I am working out or driving. So, when I received an email about a podcast where some reads the text of SCOTUS opinions, I was intrigued.
The project is the brainchild of Pippah Getchell, a political scientist with a background in government work and teaching. Ms. Getchell is not an attorney. She is quite clear on that point. But, she does understand the importance that SCOTUS opinions play in interpreting the Constitution. As she explains on her blog, it was the Court's opinion in Dobbs that prompted her to start reading, recording, and disseminating SCOTUS opinions; although in her podcast introduction, she notes that she had been waiting for someone to create such a resource for years. Part of her motivation for recording the opinions is to allow persons to make up their own minds on what the opinions say--certainly a worthwhile endeavor!
I decided to listen to a few excerpts of the podcast to see what sort of a resource I thought it could be for law students and practitioners. As an initial matter, I enjoyed hearing Ms. Getchell read. The narrator can make or break an audiobook, and I found Ms. Getchell to be a worthy narrator. Second, she has quite a repertoire of cases that she has read, including Marbury v. Madison, Dred Scott, and Baker v. Carr. She also has several very recent SCOTUS opinions, including Dobbs, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, and Berger v. North Carolina NAACP.
I listened to the beginning of Marbury and a bit of the Bremerton opinion. In both cases she started out with a brief 2-3 minute description of the facts of the case. While this can be helpful to the uninformed reader listener, even just stating the "facts" and the key legal issues can color the listener's perspective on the opinion. After the intro she launches into the reading.
I was curious how she would handle citations and footnotes in her reading. From what I could gather listening to Bremerton (while also looking at the opinion), she skipped both. From a reader and listener perspective, I totally get it. BUT, as a teaching tool, that decision is unfortunate. Citations, however, are critically important for understanding the foundation of the Court's opinions. Students of the law should be aware of the case law that the Court builds its opinion on. Likewise, footnotes often contain important information (I mean, law is full of famous footnotes). Students need to get into the habit early of reading them and assessing their relative value to the holding.
Despite these issues, Ms. Getchell's project is a worthy one. Feel free to head on over to https://whatscotuswroteus.podbean.com/ to see her full list of episodes.