Mary Pat Dwyer ’14: Scotusblogger

January 7, 2014Duke Law News

Mary Pat Dwyer '14

Although she has yet to graduate, Mary Pat Dwyer ’14 commands a large audience for her daily blog posts.  That’s because Dwyer isn’t just musing on her law school experience for her friends and family: She writes the “Petition of the Day” feature for Scotusblog, which has become one of the most influential sources of news and analysis for court-watchers.

In addition to its coverage of arguments and analysis of rulings, the Peabody Award-winning Scotusblog follows cases before the Court through the certiorari and merits stages.  That’s where Dwyer comes in.  Guided by the blog’s editors, she tracks petitions for certiorari from the time they are filed until they are vacated or granted.  Before each of the justices’ conferences, Dwyer compiles and posts a list of the petitions being tracked by the blog.  

“I watch for everything that’s filed – all the briefs and motions,” said Dwyer, who landed her part-time job with Scotusblog as a 2L.  “Each day I get to pick one that I find interesting and feature it on the blog.”

“Mary Pat has been fantastic,” said Scotusblog Editor Amy Howe.  “It’s something that requires a lot of attention to detail and being a self-starter.  We feel so lucky to have her because she makes our lives so much easier.”

The “Petition of the Day” post is part of the blog’s comprehensive tracking of all petitions for certiorari the editors think have a chance of being granted by the court, said Howe.  Doing so helps prepare the staff to cover the cases that proceed to argument and gives practitioners and members of the press a sense of cases in the Court’s pipeline.  “People are keeping an eye now on the birth control mandate and the Utah same-sex marriage cases, but the bread and butter of the Court’s docket are some of these less high-profile cases,” she said.  “So this is a way to take a look at what’s coming up in a particular conference.”

The blog’s “Petitions We’re Watching” page received 135,168 page views last year, and Dwyer often finds herself petitioned via email to highlight particular cert petitions in her daily posts.  She says she is circumspect about such requests, always taking note of their source.  “I don’t pay a lot of attention if the push is coming from the lawyers who filed them.  But if others are contacting me, it shows me people are interested in the issue,” she said.

Professor Stephen Sachs, who calls himself a dedicated Scotusblog reader, said the “Petition of the Day” posts help to focus attention on petitions that would otherwise fly under the radar.  “So many are filed that no court-watcher can stay on top of all of them, but Scotusblog’s filter helps bring public attention to many petitions that deserve it.” 

During his 2009-2010 clerkship for Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., the feature served as “a check of sorts.” “If I saw a petition listed there that I hadn’t regarded as significant the first time around, I’d make sure to go back and read it one more time,” Sachs said. “And as far as students go, I think there are few better ways to familiarize yourself with developments in the law than to follow the Court’s cert docket.”

Dwyer has, indeed, found following the docket closely to be useful.  She made Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action – the “Petition of the Day” on March 21, 2013 – the subject of a paper for a fall semester seminar on modern constitutional theory, and discussed the case during a successful clerkship interview. “The case involves a state constitutional ban on affirmative action that I think is really interesting,” she said.  “It was the main substantive legal matter I talked about in my clerkship interview.”

Dwyer, who will begin clerking for Judge Stanley Marcus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in July, credits her 1L Constitutional Law class with sparking her interest in applying for a position with Scotusblog.

“Con Law was interesting, and I was lucky enough to have taken it when health care reform – this huge national issue – was pending,” she said.  Her 3L fall externship in the appellate division of the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina gave her a welcome first-hand look on the appellate process, she said. 

During the fall semester Dwyer added updating Scotusblog’s “merits pages” to her duties; she posts links to all the briefs filed in cases in which the Court has granted certiorari. That gave her occasion to closely follow Sachs’ influential intervention, as amicus curiae in support of neither party, in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. District Court; he decided to weigh in on the case after reading the parties’ briefs on Scotusblog.

“I was watching all of this unfold,” said Dwyer.  “He filed the brief and filed a motion asking to intervene in oral argument, and the parties said, ‘No, no, no.’ It was fun to watch.  I thought, ‘That’s my Civ Pro professor.’”

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