Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Law professor Josh Blackman talks about his online game FantasySCOTUS Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at his office in Houston. The fantasy league in which participants try to predict how the judges will vote on cases that come before them was started more than four years ago as a fun way of understanding an institution that for many people still remains mysterious.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Second-guessing SCOTUS? Try this fantasy league
First Published Feb 15 2014 10:09 am • Last Updated Feb 15 2014 10:24 am

Houston • In many ways, it’s a fantasy league like any other, with players obsessing over mounds of data and minutia, teams sporting a variety of colorful names like "RISK It for the Biscuit" and projections that are bound to be way off.

But in this fantasy league, it’s not the NFL’s Calvin Johnson or Peyton Manning who are the stars but a group known for its skills not on the playing field but in the courtroom: the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In FantasySCOTUS, participants try to predict how the justices will vote in each of the cases that come before the high court during its term, which runs from October to late June or early July.

Josh Blackman, a Houston law professor who started the online game more than four years ago, said the site is a fun way of understanding an institution that for many people remains mysterious and far removed from daily life.

"People want to know what are they doing, and this is just one way of kind of peeling back the curtain," said Blackman, who teaches at South Texas College of Law.

FantasySCOTUS started "almost like a joke," said the 29-year-old Blackman.

The idea came in 2009 when he kidded with a friend about what the betting odds would be in Las Vegas over the then pending ruling from the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, which lifted many restrictions on corporate spending in political elections.

Blackman and another person built the site in a month and launched it in November 2009. Within 24 hours, 1,000 people had signed up. Today, the site has more than 20,000 participants.

While most players tend to be lawyers or law students, the site also has political scientists and engineers as well as other professions.

Blackman said the site’s best players are 75 to 80 percent accurate.


story continues below
story continues below

A correct guess on a justice’s vote to either affirm or reverse a case earns 10 points. Correctly guessing how all nine justices vote earns a 100 point bonus. The high court votes on about 80 cases per year.

The winner each season of FantasySCOTUS earns the title of "chief justice" and a golden gavel with their name inscribed on it. While there are no cash prizes, there are "lots of bragging rights," Blackman said.

Jacob Berlove, 30, of New York City, has been the holder of those bragging rights for three years running.

What makes Berlove’s accomplishment more impressive is that he never went to law school. Berlove, who has also never played fantasy football, currently works in medical billing. But he has been interested in the high court since elementary school.

"I’m certainly never going to sit on the Supreme Court. The best I can do is show that I perhaps understand the way the justices are operating," he said.

But Berlove isn’t playing this season, saying the lack of a cash prize has made it difficult to devote so much time to the game.

Blackman said he is considering adding a cash prize next year.

Kathleen Arberg, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, declined to comment about the fantasy league.

Blackman said he has heard that the justices are aware of his website.

FantasySCOTUS has also led to the creation of the Harlan Institute, a nonprofit Blackman started that’s established a version of site that is used as a teaching tool in high schools across the country.

Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York City, said while the idea of the fantasy league might sound silly at first, he believes it can be a good way to educate the public about the high court. A 2012 survey by the FindLaw.com legal information website found that nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn’t name a single member of the Supreme Court.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.