U.S. Supreme Court justices have some of the most important jobs in the country, given their lifetime appointments and the gravity of the issues facing the high court.
That’s why newsrooms across the country, including The New York Times, have spilled a lot of ink covering President Trump’s nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement.
As journalists, we aim to shed light on important people in the news — particularly public officials and Supreme Court nominees — to help our readers understand them, how they think and how they operate. That due diligence leads us to interview people who know the nominees, like colleagues and neighbors. It requires that we read what the nominees have written or watch speeches they’ve delivered. And it often depends on our requests for public records that could offer our readers a fresh perspective about the nominees.
In the case of Mr. Kavanaugh, The Times requested records under Maryland’s public records law from Chevy Chase Section 5, where the nominee’s wife, Ashley, serves as town manager.
We sought email records involving Judge Kavanaugh and communications that referenced hot-button topics. We believed that the records, if they existed, could provide a unique and personalized view into the nominee. We worked with the town to minimize the time and cost involved in responding to our request. (The Associated Press submitted its own request, and The Times and others have filed separate requests with the National Archives pertaining to Mr. Kavanaugh.)
Ultimately, our request yielded 85 pages of emails, none of which provided any substantive insights into Mr. Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy. Instead, the records were largely what you would expect from a town manager’s email account — mundane dispatches about town business, from snow removals to local newsletters. Not surprisingly, a number of people, neighbors and strangers alike, sent Ashley Kavanaugh congratulations on her husband’s nomination.
In other words, it was hardly front-page news.
And yet, we recognized before submitting the request that this was a possible outcome. We often file public records requests that yield no newsworthy information.
But when it comes to reporting on a potential Supreme Court justice, we had to try.
More information on how we use public information requests: