Commentary

The Supreme Court has a secret weapon for helping the public — and the news media — understand quickly what the Justices have decided, in virtually every case.  (Truth be told, she is also SCOTUSblog’s secret weapon when we do liveblogging, which puts a high premium on swift deciphering.)  Of course, we are talking about Christine Luchok Fallon, the Court’s “Reporter of Decisions.”  And no reporter, in any medium, has ever had more demanding bosses: nine Supreme Court Justices.

Before any argued decision by the Court is released to the public and the press, Ms. Fallon has performed the exquisitely delicate task of writing a summary of the ruling, and doing it in a way that (1) gets it right, (2) does not leave out anything really critical, and (3), most important, is acceptable to the author whose flowing (or plodding) prose she has turned into plain English.   Although she has had the title for only about a year (see this press release announcing her appointment), Ms. Fallon has been doing this kind of thing as Deputy Reporter for nearly a quarter-century, and had been doing something of the same thing for years before.

It is a humble (and humbling) job, because every edition of her work — that is, every “headnote” that she prepares — says at the top that it “constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court.”  In other words, Christine Fallon has never decided a Supreme Court case with a headnote (the Court calls it a “syllabus”), but she obviously has influenced how countless numbers of people have understood the Court’s decisions.  In just a few spare pages, a headnote makes what follows (sometimes in hundreds of pages) easily accessible.   Although she has a law degree, and is an experienced practitioner, it does not take a law degree to understand her headnotes.

Around the Court’s press room, near the close of Christine Fallon’s first Term as the Reporter, it is common to hear that she does a really first-rate job at it, and has made professional life measurably more comfortable for the news media — and, we may assume, her legions of readers in the general public.

She is, by the way, the sixteenth person to hold the post of Reporter in the Court’s history.  And she is the first woman in the post.   Let’s hear it for Christine Fallon!

(UPDATE:  Ms Fallon, we are told, is truly dedicated to her work.  The Court’s public information office said that, when she was told this morning about this post, she said she would “read it on Friday.”  Between now and then, she will be doing headnotes on health care, among other decisions still to go.)

 

Posted in Everything Else

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Let’s hear it for Christine Fallon!, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 26, 2012, 10:56 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/06/lets-hear-it-for-christine-fallon/