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Live Audio Proving Popular with the Papers

This month, several top national news outlets have written positive editorials about the Supreme Court’s experiment with livestreaming the audio of its oral arguments.

Here are some excerpts, all from unsigned staff editorials unless otherwise indicated:

Washington Post: “The Supreme Court sounds great. Keep the broadcasts coming.,” May 23:

The grim coronavirus pandemic has brought one welcome change that the Supreme Court should make permanent: Oral arguments, conducted for the moment via teleconference, have been broadcast live, bringing Americans closer than ever to a key organ of their government.

The public has a stake in knowing how its government operates. Many federal appeals court judges and state Supreme Court justices have for years televised their proceedings without suffering a discernible degradation in courtroom behavior. Live Supreme Court audio streaming did not undermine the caliber of the discussion in the exceptional instances in which it was allowed in the past, and it hasn’t degraded the court during the past month. […]

The broadcasts have been an unmitigated success. Flourishing now in the radio age, the court should remain there […].

N.Y. Times: “Live From D.C., It’s the Supreme Court!” May 4 (editorial writer Jesse Wegman):

After listening to the [live] arguments on Monday, it was hard to see what the big deal was. […]

The court’s authority, and thus its power to command obedience, derives in part from its mystique, which explains why its members have so jealously guarded their distance. Will that authority be diminished when all Americans are able to listen to the justices doing their job in real time, on scratchy conference calls stripped of the pomp and grandeur of the courtroom?

On balance, I think not.

L.A. Times: “For an accessible Supreme Court, we need to keep the livestream alive,” May 22 (editorial writer Mike McGough):

A lively debate is occurring about which pandemic-related emergency measures should be made permanent once things return to normal. Work from home? Online college classes? Tele-visits with the family doctor? Zoom cocktail parties?

My candidate: live-streaming of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, which occurred for the first time this month when the justices were hearing cases over the telephone. […]

Whatever the court does about protocol for questioning, the other innovation it adopted because of the pandemic — livestreaming of arguments — must be made permanent. For citizens eager to follow the court’s public proceedings in real time, justices delayed is justice denied.

Chicago Tribune: “Live audio from the Supreme Court? Now, let’s have video,” May 26:

We think the court as well as the public would benefit from the greater understanding that would come from letting ordinary people watch arguments as they happen. On occasions when major cases are decided, plenty of Americans would tune in to see John Roberts or Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarize the court’s opinion — or their dissent. […]

The work they do is a vital part of our system of government, and every American should have the opportunity to see how they do it.

New York Daily News: “Supremely useful: Hearing oral arguments live is a high court reform that should outlast the necessities of a pandemic,” May 4

This page and others have demanded the Supremes open up, as other top judicial panels across the world have done. While listening to the high court can test one’s tolerance for judicial jargon, it’s an invaluable civics lesson.

It finally happened.

Now, justices who pulled back the curtain in the midst of a public-health crisis dare not close them again when it ends. Or will they?

Boston Globe: “High court makes history in response to coronavirus,” May 7:

This week the court, however reluctantly, took a step toward greater transparency and accessibility. The high heavens did not fall. It was indeed long overdue progress, and it must not be lost.

Surely Justice Roberts also knows that tortoise he’s so fond of invoking was slow, but it never, ever marched backward.

SCOTUSblog: “Courtroom access: Where do we go from here?” May 13 (reporter Amy Howe):

There’s no reason why the court shouldn’t continue with live-streaming after the COVID-19 crisis is over; there are over 300 million reasons why it should.

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