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Justice Kennedy Appearance No One Saw Makes Waves

Unlike the President, the Supreme Court does not have a press pool. Not only are the speeches given by the justices not transcribed that often, they’re rarely even covered by the media, who aren’t given advance notice of the talks.

It gets worse. As Andrew Cohen of CBS News lamented in the Atlantic, When “the [justices] speak in public […], they often impose in these appearances onerous restrictions upon their way their words can be reported,” such as “no video” or “no audio.”

A talk given by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Chautauqua, N.Y. – for which Cohen pleaded and received an audio file, though the deal was he couldn’t publish it online – has some incredible insights into the way the so-called swing justice approaches his job and thinks about the First Amendment and sticky philosophical concepts like moral relativism.

But save for a single account in a college newspaper in Western New York, where the speech was delivered, there was no press coverage.

The justices are all thoughtful and accomplished jurists who have a lot to say off the bench. The public should hear from them more than once in a blue moon.

While the White House and many congressional offices each day release the public schedules of the President and members of Congress, respectively, the Supreme Court refrains from giving advance notice of when a justice is appearing in public for a lecture, seminar, or other event. And sometimes, when a justice appears in public, he or she goes to great lengths to ensure a speech or panel discussion is not recorded or broadcast. Further, it’s not always clear from a justice’s annual financial disclosure report who paid for his or her travel to and lodging for said event.

Fix the Court is calling on the court to advise the press of the justices’ public appearances (i.e., not vacation or other personal dealings) outside of the court, allow media coverage of most of those appearances like other top government officials and be more forthcoming about their travel benefactors in their disclosure reports.

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