Dahlia Lithwick, Media and Journalism, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

Play That Funky Oral Argument Tape, White Boy

supreme court 1.jpgThe Supreme Court heard a number of interesting oral arguments this week — and we’re way behind in our coverage of them. We’re working on catching up.
On that note, it’s too bad that audio recordings of this week’s SCOTUS arguments aren’t available. As noted by the WSJ Law Blog, the Court released same-day printed transcripts in Watters v. Wachovia Bank and the greenhouse gas case — but no audio broadcasts or same-day recordings.
This was pursuant to the Court’s policy of selectively releasing recordings based on whether there is “heightened public interest” in a case — i.e., whether it involves a hot-button issue. And these two cases, despite their major implications for business, environmental law, and federal-state relations, didn’t make the cut.
We’d like to echo Dahlia Lithwick’s recent call for the Supreme Court to revisit this policy of selective audio-casting:

If the Supreme Court justices really want the public to recognize that what they do is subtle and legal, as opposed to ideologically driven, why would they release the audio in precisely those cases in which they are most stridently split? Why reinforce the stereotype of a partisan 5-4 court that splits along the most-basic liberal/conservative lines?

(Oh, and Howard Bashman is with us on this — which means that of course we’re right.)
Releasing same-day audio tapes of ALL Supreme Court oral arguments, regardless of the level of “public interest,” would take a clean, bright-line approach to the issue. It would allow the public to learn more about the workings of the Court, but without the intrusion of cameras in the courtroom. Justice Breyer wouldn’t have to worry about television close-ups of his wattle; Justice Scalia could leave his eyebrows au naturel.
Finally, same-day audio release would save the Court — or the Court’s Public Information Office — from having to determine whether a case is “sexy” enough to merit broadcast. Because do you really want Kathy Arberg deciding what’s sexy?
(Speaking of Kathy Arberg, a few weeks ago the Supreme Flacktress put up a “help wanted” sign at One First Street. Out of curiosity, does anyone know whether the position is still open?)
Listen Up: The Supreme Court’s hot/cold audio-casting policy [Slate]
Should Congress Mandate Supreme Court TV? [Law.com via How Appealing]
Listen to Today’s Supreme Court Oral Arguments… Not! [WSJ Law Blog]

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