For more than 40 years, Arthur “Art” Lien has gone where cameras can’t: in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court of the United States.

But the well-known cartoonist, who has received considerable recognition for his work, is hanging up his pencils and brushes.


What do you want to know

  • For more than 40 years, Arthur “Art” Lien has gone where the cameras can’t: in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • The well-known cartoonist hangs up his pencils and brushes, retiring after a long and memorable career
  • Lien got his first big break covering the trial of Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel before eventually serving as a Supreme Court cartoonist for several outlets.
  • Lien said Judge Sandra Day O’Connor was “definitely the toughest justice” to portray, and her favorite cartoon was Judge Stephen Breyer, citing his “wonderful body language” and expressive movements.

When Lien was twenty-five, he was laying peat and painting houses. It certainly wasn’t the career the art school grad had in mind.

“I started to get really worried that this was it,” Lien, now 70, recalled to Spectrum News.

But he quickly got an unexpected big break.

“Our governor in Maryland, Gov. [Marvin] Mandel was going to be tried,” he said. “And the local station was looking for someone to draw the trial. I answered the call.”

Lien recalled that things didn’t go well at first.

“I started with [these] big sheets of non-absorbent paper, and I was using this opaque watercolor,” Lien recalls. “And every time I tilted my pad, everything flowed.”

“I was fired on my first day on the job because I did such a terrible job,” he added. “I called him. I said, ‘Let me come back. just, I think I know the problem. And they didn’t fire me.

Lien then moved on to a larger court: the Supreme Court of the United States.

A sketch of the United States Supreme Court (Art Link)

CBS News hired Lien to cover the court and the Senate in 1977 under their top artist, Howard Brodie, a World War II combat artist.

“He had just covered Watergate, then the Manson trial and, he kind of took me under his wing and took me to the Supreme Court first,” Lien recalled. “After the Supreme Court in the morning, we moved on to the Senate. And it was all very overwhelming. I don’t think I completed a single drawing that day. But I guess I showed some promise. So CBS hired me and that’s how I started here.

Over time, Lien’s work continued to grow, covering the Oklahoma City bombing and Boston Marathon trials, the Manafort trail, and three presidential impeachment trials. But his main target was the Supreme Court.

” I loved. I really have. The people I work with in the press room, I really feel at home there. I love it,” Lien said, as he sketched the exterior of the high court.

Lien has worked for CBS, NBC and, more recently, SCOTUSblog, being the eyes inside the courtroom where cameras aren’t allowed. Despite being one of the best cartoonists in the country, the 70-year-old remains humble when it comes to his craft.

“Really, I’m just trying to capture something,” he said. “Am I trying to capture the emotion? Sure, I’m trying to capture the action, the body language, the courtroom setting, but, you know, I’m just trying to get something passable.”

“I think drawing is a lot like storytelling, kind of like what a writer does,” he added.

When the pandemic hit, everyone’s world was turned upside down. Legal proceedings were conducted remotely, including Supreme Court arguments, but that did not deter Lien. Instead, he got creative.

“I contacted all the lawyers who were arguing cases and asked them if they could send a picture of themselves arguing on the loudspeaker. And they did,” he said. He says with a laugh. He noted that some lawyers have included keepsakes, family photos, and other keepsakes in their snapshots in hopes they’ll make it into Lien’s sketches.

But as the pandemic subsided and courtrooms reopened, Lien was reluctant to resume the long drive from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., then decided it was time to retire his sketchbook.

“I have always been semi-retired. I mean, it’s not a full-time job here at the Supreme Court. So I have a lot of things to do. I have a big old house that needs a lot of work. I really like building and riding my bike,” Lien said of what he plans to do in his new free time.

Looking back on his career, we asked him who was the hardest for him to capture on paper.

“Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor was definitely the hardest,” Lien said immediately. “There wasn’t much change on the pitch until O’Connor came on the bench,” he explained. “I never felt like I captured her perfectly.”

He responded just as quickly when asked what his favorite was.

“Oh, it must be [Justice Stephen] Breyer,” he said with a smile. “He’s wonderful, very, you know, wonderful body language and he moves his hands. And he asks these long questions with these long hypothetical hybrid bald people. So you have plenty of time to draw [him]and I’ve always liked that.

It’s not hyperbole to say that there may never be another courtroom cartoonist like Art Lien.

“I have a lot of young artists reaching out to me and saying, ‘How do I get started as a courtroom artist?’ I just tell them it’s a dying art,” Lien said emotionally. “More cameras, better graphics, more perp rides, things like that, and also just an attitude that, you know, is kind of archaic.”

Art Lien’s work is memorable, capturing the story where cameras cannot and words fail. He says he treasures the time he spent covering the country’s high court.

“I guess Lady Justice was my muse,” he said, before concentrating on finishing his sketch.

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