Durbin Calls For Livestreaming of Audio during Handdown

June 19th, 2013

Senator Dick Durbin wrote a letter to the Supreme Court, offering the same compromise position with respect to recording in the Supreme Court: livestream the audio of opinion handdowns.

Tony Mauro reports:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday urged Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to allow live broadcast of the Supreme Court’s opinion announcements in the blockbuster cases due to be issued before the end of June.

“It is not unreasonable for the American people to have an opportunity to hear firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come,” Durbin wrote to Roberts in a letter released Tuesday.

Coming so late in the term, the letter amounts to a Hail Mary pass, especially since the court has stubbornly resisted live broadcast of any of its proceedings since the earliest days of radio. But Durbin’s letter is different from other efforts in that it seeks broadcast of the court’s opinion announcements, not just its oral arguments.

“In the next two weeks, the Court will announce opinions in some of the most closely watched cases in a generation. The Court’s opinions in these cases will impact millions of individuals and the collective fabric of American life,” Durbin wrote in his letter to the chief justice. “People of reasonable minds may disagree on the proper outcome of any given case, but we can all agree that the American public is well served when all three branches of government are accessible and transparent. The opportunity to receive real-time access to audio from all public proceedings of the Supreme Court would greatly expand the Court’s accessibility to average Americans. The enhanced transparency that would come from live audio broadcasts of public proceedings would allow the public to more closely track the many important cases that the Court decides.”

I think this is a perfectly sensible compromise position. The theatrics of oral argument questioning are not present during the handdown. However, one possible problem is the statements read from the bench are usually not vetted in advance by the other justices, so there may be some hesitation to release them. Indeed, while some of the Justices (Scalia and Ginsburg) often give the press copies of their handdown statements, I’ve learned that these are not to be released and are only provided to ensure the accuracy of the quotations.