There’s no small irony that members of the Supreme Court, whose institutional and media policies are stuck in a bygone era, have been taking part in celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. While the document holds great international significance, it’s nearly as old as Methuselah – and there’s no question America did it one better in 1789 with the Constitution.
Chief Justice John Roberts has participated in two such commemorations, both of which have been covered by C-SPAN. While the chief justice has stated, “It’s not our job to educate the public,” these types of events would have been the perfect opportunities to begin the practice of advising the public and press about the justices’ out-of-court schedule, given Roberts’ earnest, scholarly approach to the document and the lack of controversy therein. Viewable here and here, Roberts gave the type of lectures one would hope to hear from a chief justice.
Further irony comes in about halfway through his August 11 talk, when Roberts says the signing of the Magna Carta “is depicted in the Supreme Court on the frieze that runs across the top of our courtroom. The next time you’re in Washington, you can pick it out. […] And you will see that the sculptor has done a very good job of capturing an unhappy expression on King John’s face.”
Of course, Roberts failed to mention that getting a seat during a hearing, or even at a tour, at the Supreme Court is no easy feat, though the rules governing such are, in the end, up to him.
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 advanced 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 their 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.