Recording in the Supreme Court Compromise: Live-Stream The Audio

April 7th, 2013

The Supreme Court has emphatically stated that it has no interests in allowing cameras. The Court is perpetually afraid of video clips of questions being taken out of context, and being played on the news. For reasons Tony Mauro articulately stated, I think this reasoning is pathetic. But, this is the world we live in.

However, the Court has been much more amenable to releasing audio. As it stands now, the Court releases audio recordings of all cases on the Friday after the case is argued. I seem to recall that when the Chief instituted this policy a few years ago, the thinking was that by delaying the release of the audio, it would be harder to take snippets out of context on the evening news when the case was still hot.

Yet, for almost all of the big cases in recent years (this year, the same-sex marriage cases, last year, the ObamaCare cases, and in the past Heller, Bush v. Gore, and others), the Court has agreed to release the audio the same day. Indeed, the audio is usually released a few hours after the arguments were submitted. This is plenty of time to allow the 6:00 News or the Daily Show to broadcast clips.

So, how about this for a compromise. As a first step, the Court can live-stream the big arguments. The Court is already releasing the arguments a few hours-delayed. Why not live-stream them? The audio is never edited. From what I can tell, the Court just dumps the audio onto the web. I can’t think of any good policy reasons why it is okay to release the audio two hours later, but not live-stream them. This would obviate the need for us to sit in absolute suspense, waiting for reports to trickle out of the Court. In today’s real-time world, those few hours from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. are a lifetime.

I suppose there are some technical difficulties, but I have no doubt that Congress would fall over itself to fund this. Hell, I would contribute to such a cause. It could be managed within the Court (no need to allow CSPAN in). And maybe a tape delay could be added, just in case there are any fleeting expletives (like buttocks?).

If the Court is not comfortable broadcasting oral arguments, they should at least consider live-stream the hand-downs of opinions (as PolicyJunkie suggested). There is zero risk for questions from the Justices to be taken out of context. Here, the Justices are reading prepared statements about the cases, and the opinions are available immediately on the web site. Can you imagine how amazing it would have been if the NFIB hand-down was live-streamed.

If this strategy works out, perhaps the Court could move on to releasing all oral arguments through the live stream. And maybe if this works, maybe, cameras may be permitted for opinion hand-downs!

This is a compromise for now. I have no powers beyond the blog, but perhaps if this idea percolates in the blogosphere, it may make some impact. Or not.