Forty-five years of visual journalism from a supremely talented court artist
on Sep 30, 2022 at 4:33 pm
For 45 years, Arthur Lien witnessed, sketched, and recorded for posterity some of the Supreme Court’s most historic moments. His pencil-and-watercolor illustrations have the uncanny quality of transporting the viewer into the room at just the right time. An emphatic gesture from an oral advocate. A raised eyebrow from a quizzical justice. The fraught silence in the packed courtroom before a big opinion announcement.
Lawyers, journalists, and justices know him as Art, or as Court Artist. But in a sense, artist is a misnomer.
“I tend not to see myself as an artist at all,” he said recently. “I don’t think that’s my approach. Nor am I an editorial cartoonist. I’m more of a reporter. I’m reporting what I see. I’m trying to do it without injecting my own opinions.”
Art, an impeccable journalist with an artist’s skill, retired over the summer. He leaves us with a vast body of work — a visual, documentary record of one of the very few places in American public life where cameras cannot go.
The first Supreme Court argument Art ever sketched, as a recent graduate from the Maryland Institute College of Art, was in 1977. The argument was in University of California Regents v. Bakke, a landmark case in which the court upheld affirmative action (a precedent that is now in jeopardy in the upcoming term).
Some of the final work of Art’s career was his coverage of the case that ended the constitutional right to abortion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Art recorded the marathon oral argument and the emotional protests after the court issued its decision.
Between Bakke in 1977 and Dobbs in 2022, Art captured countless other milestones, and lots of smaller moments, too. For nearly his whole career, he worked for NBC News. And starting in 2013, he worked for SCOTUSblog as well. For us, he didn’t just cover oral arguments, opinion announcements, and other courtroom scenes. He also developed the iconic banners — some whimsical, some beautiful, some poignant — that grace the top of our homepage.
With a new term about to begin, and without Art producing new pieces, SCOTUSblog is going to start to look a little different. (More details on that coming soon.) But Art’s work is timeless. With his help, we’ve collected a small sample of some of that work. (And you can see even more in our series of tributes to him.)
Thank you, Art. Well done and well drawn.