Is the Supreme Court of the United States about to break into the 21st Century with all-new livestream technology? Not quite. But for the first time ever, the public will be able to listen in to live arguments made in the highest court. The content may not rival Judge Judy for its pugnacious flair, but Americans across the nation will be afforded an opportunity to listen in to history being made.
Does this signal a boon to liberty and a more accessible and transparent judiciary? Or will this be a one-off, an audio souvenir fondly remembered akin to a visit to the nation’s capital?
Any New Business?
The court was closed to the public and suspended oral arguments during April; it intends to resume on May 4. For this historic occasion, arguments will be presented telephonically with the justices listening on the end of a line… and this time, everyone else can join them.
In normal times, standard court practice would involve some members of the public being granted admission to the gallery, but with COVID-19 playing havoc across much of the country, new methods of process needed to be considered.
Recordings of court sessions have been made since 1955, with these slices of audio history being stored in The National Archives and Records Administration. However, until 2010, the oral arguments of one term were not made available until the beginning of the next. In more recent years, recordings of these sessions would be made public at the end of each week.
So why is the court going ahead with live broadcasts now?
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest in the land and is subject to the same code of transparency that is expected of all branches of government. This openness is facilitated by the seated audience and an audio record available to the public.
With social distancing measures enacted across much of the nation, this first aspect of transparency is just not practicable. Not to mention the justices themselves will also not be convening in the traditional sense. To ensure that the process of law remains above suspicion, a live broadcast provides reassurance to an increasingly skeptical population. Conspiracy theorists will have to stretch their imaginations much farther.
Better for Liberty?
Tempora mutantur, and so must we. Has the American public ever been more engaged in the happenings and the machinations of government than they are now? Much of this comes from the instantaneousness of the internet; we can all get our news within minutes instead of waiting for the morning edition or hanging out for the six o’clock news.
The standard practice of releasing audio recordings at the end of the business week is too slow for many news consumers. By the time the public can listen in, much of the meat has already been packaged and broadcast by a hundred different outlets, all putting their own brand of spin on it. People want facts, direct from the fount.
This historical event – that you can tune into right here on Liberty Nation – is a first and will start at 10 a.m. Eastern. But it likely won’t be the last. We don’t just want words on paper or clickbait headlines designed to wed us to a media-distorted viewpoint. Do people want to hear the inflection of the voices, the anger, the passion, the prose of a case well-argued in this selective arena? Could there be a sea-change coming for how the Supreme Court presents itself to the American people?