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FTC Spearheads Push for Live Audio at SCOTUS

By Dylan Hosmer-Quint, FTC research associate

Fix the Court and 15 other good-governance and transparency advocates sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts on July 15 asking that the Supreme Court continue releasing audio of oral arguments live to the public when the justices return to the bench in October.

Read the full letter here.

“Real-time broadcasts not only give the public direct access to an engaging, intellectual bench,” the letter reads, “they also diminish the ability of partisan interests to color a case in ways that serve narrow ends.”

Over the years, the justices have imagined various downsides of live audio – sometimes calling into question the public’s capacity to understand the arguments, sometimes fearing that attorneys or justices would grandstand, or play for the cameras. But when arguments were conducted virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and the justices were forced to provide live audio, none of those fears were realized.

On the contrary, as the letter writes, Americans across the country were given a unique opportunity to engage with third branch. As the letter explains, the arguments “offer civics lessons that cannot be replicated under the old rules, where only 50 to 100 members of the public gain entry to an argument.”

Fix the Court has long advocated live audio at the Supreme Court. Over the years, we have encouraged real time access by urging the court to act on its own and also by supporting legislation that would force the court’s hand.

Now that the court has experimented with live audio, it appears the justices might be willing to consider the reform of their own volition, without necessitating congressional action.

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