Justice Amy Coney Barrett requested limited access be given during her remarks at a September event at a University of Louisville center named in honor of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at which she blamed media “hot takes” for the court’s declining public reputation.
“She does not want livestreaming or filming,” someone in her chambers whose name is redacted wrote in a June email to Gary Gregg, director of the McConnell Center while noting “the public talk is open to the press.”
The emails obtained by watchdog Fix the Court under a Freedom of Information Act request provide a window into the negotiations between justices, who often try to limit press access, and a public institution hosting their remarks.
“Though press was invited, transparency advocates had hoped the Barrett talk would have been livestreamed, and the video saved for posterity, given that the justices are public figures whose speeches have news value and the challenges for a D.C.-based SCOTUS press corps to travel during a pandemic,” the group said in a statement Friday.
Barrett’s appearance at the Sept. 12 event marking the McConnell Center’s 30th anniversary was her first public remarks about the court since winning Senate confirmation in a party-line vote last year. Her confirmation was shepherded by McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who also attended the event. In her remarks, Barrett said the court shouldn’t be viewed as a partisan institution and told the crowd that “my goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”
The email from Barrett’s chambers was in response to one from Gregg in which he wrote, “most all our speakers do” decide to have their remarks filmed or broadcast outside the room. But he noted, Justice Neil Gorsuch “did not permit filming of his. Ideally, we would love for this to be livestreamed to those who can’t get into the room or taped so we can make it available later.”
In an August email, the Supreme Court public information officer, whose name is redacted said the justice would like “print press coverage only—no broadcast coverage and no still photography (including no still photography by the McConnell Center.) Recording devices are permitted for note taking purposes only, not for broadcast. Reporters should be seated in a separate section and should not participate in any Q&A with the audience, if any.”
The public information officer also said the justice would not be available for any interviews and requested an announcement at the start of the event asking attendees to “refrain from cell phone photography or recording during the Justice’s event.”
Gregg replied, “As draconian as these rules are, I understand and will convey to all our constituencies here.”
In a follow up email in September, the Supreme Court public information officer, laid out “revised guidelines for the Justice’s public event” to include “limited still photography.”
In an email after the event, Gregg said, “the Justice was delightful and brilliant yesterday” and asked for the best address to mail her a personalized Louisville Slugger bat.
“We also still have Justice Kavanaugh’s bat from his visit in 2020 so I better get that out as well!” Gregg wrote.