Supreme Court Acknowledges Oral Argument Was “Redacted”

March 3rd, 2014

Following up from my initial posts about the Supreme Court censoring oral arguments, Tony Mauro has the report:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday acknowledged that a spectator’s outburst during an oral argument Feb. 26 was “redacted” from the audio posted on the court’s web site late last week.

“The comments were not transcribed by the court reporter, who is responsible for transcribing and creating an official record of oral arguments (justices’ questions, statements, and counsels’ comments),” court public information officer Kathy Arberg said in a statement. “The audio was redacted to reflect the official proceedings.” The court reporter is an employee of Alderson Reporting Service, Arberg added.

Gee, I was expecting a “No Comment” from Kathy Arberg. This is even worse. So if the court reporter only records the justices’ questions, statements, and counsels’ comments, why are “Laughters” recorded. Those are from the crowd. The audio recordings are never redacted to eliminate the laughters. In fact, entirely scholarly studies have been done to record them. I’m not buying this rationale. Sorry.

And as Jerry Goldman notes, many other interruptions have been recorded:

The court’s handling of the audio of the protest appears to diverge from past policy. Numerous oral argument tapes found on the Oyez Project website contain spectator outbursts, according to founder Jerry Goldman.

“Nonofficial statements during arguments have definitely been recorded,” Goldman said.

Pat Ward, a consulting audio engineer who has listened to thousands of official argument audiotapes going back to 1955, agreed. “Protests in the court are readily heard” on the tapes, Ward said. “You don’t need a mike in front of it to hear it.”

Thanks to Tony for the nice shout-out to Michelle Olsen and me:

Josh Blackman and Michelle Olsen, avid bloggers and tweeters about the court, reported on the deletion of the audio in recent days, with Blackman calling the court’s action “appalling.” New York Times editorial writer Jesse Wegman called it a “hasty re-clothing of the emperor.”

Though Kathy Arberg’s answer confirms what I suspected–that the Court only views the audio as a means to record the “official” proceedings, and nothing else. In no sense does the Court feel they have any obligation to record these arguments for ourselves and our posterity. They are just doing us a favor. I couldn’t agree more.

This is what all public proceedings are subject to open meeting and record preservation laws. They exist not for the government’s benefit alone, but for our benefit.