WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday said live audio of its oral arguments will continue this term as the court moves toward a partial reopening starting next week.
The public and members of the press will also be welcomed back into the courtroom as the court begins its new term next week, according to a press release. Masking inside the courtroom will be optional. Outside of oral arguments, the building will remain closed to the public.
“The justices have a constituency of 330 million, and all of us, not just those who have the time and money to get to Washington on argument day and wait for hours in line, deserve to be able to follow the Court's work in real-time, as modern technology permits,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said in a statement.
It has been over two years since members of the public and non-credentialed reporters have been invited into the courtroom. In March of 2020, the court, like many other institutions, closed its doors and turned to virtual methods of work to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite long-held concerns over live streaming their proceedings, the court allowed live audio feed of its oral arguments to be broadcast while conducting its work virtually. This practice was continued last October despite a partial reopening with justices, attorneys and credentialed reporters back in the building.
In March, 40 Supreme Court practitioners wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking the court to continue providing live audio access. A C-SPAN/Pierrepont poll taken at the time found that almost half of respondents had listened to live audio from the court and those who did had a more favorable view of the court. However, the majority of voters polled wanted the court to go further and provide live video coverage of proceedings.
Many of the justices have expressed concern over televising arguments. In 2019, Justice Samuel Alito said it would undermine the value of the arguments in the decision-making process. Alito also worried that advocates would be more concerned with getting a soundbite for viewers instead of making arguments for the justices. Justice Elena Kagan also worried the justices might self-censor to avoid being taken out of context.
The fate of oral argument live streaming remained uncertain until less than a week before the court started its new term. While the court said it will continue providing audio streaming for this upcoming term, the justices did not specify if this practice had become a permanent feature of the court’s work.
“Since, in my view, it's going to take a generational turnover at the Court — that is, whenever Gen Xers and Millennials have replaced all the Boomers — to get cameras in the courtroom, the public, for now, should keep up the pressure to ensure that live audio doesn't go away a year from now and that opinion announcements, should they return, are also livestreamed,” Roth said.
The court will also continue posting audio and a transcript of oral arguments following their conclusion each day.
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