Update: Supreme Court denies same-day audio request

February 26, 2016 11:00

Update: The Supreme Court has denied a request from RTDNA, along with other media and transparency groups, to release same-day audio in two important cases to be heard by the court this term. Despite agreeing to do so in a handful of cases over the past five years, the Court says it will follow its usual procedure, releasing transcripts at the end of the day of arguments, and audio recordings at the end of the week. The response read:
Thank you for your note. The Court will follow its usual practices regarding the posting of the audio for arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and U.S. v. Texas. The transcripts of the oral arguments will be available on the Court’s website on the same day arguments are heard, and the audio recordings will be available on the website on the Friday following each argument.

RTDNA will continue its efforts to make cameras and microphones a routine part of Supreme Court proceedings, and championing for better access for the public to the important work being done at all levels of the judicial branch of government.

For decades, RTDNA has helped lead the efforts to open the U.S. Supreme Court and all federal courts to cameras and microphones. Progress is being made, as some circuit appeals courts and trial courts have allowed coverage experiments. And at the Supreme Court, audio recordings of oral arguments are now routinely made available at the end of each week.

For two important cases this term, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, and U.S. v. Texas, which focus on the issues of abortion and immigration, RTDNA is calling on the Court to release same-day audio of oral arguments. A letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, co-signed by several media and transparency organizations, says in part, "Millions of people will be impacted by how these cases are decided, and we believe the public should hear the justices and attorneys grapple with the subjects at the soonest available moment."

The Court began recording its proceedings in 1955, but did not make those recordings available to the public until 1993, when it would release audio from cases at the end of each term, which meant some were as much as a year old by the time they became public. For some important cases in recent years, the Court has agreed to release audio on the same day. The practice began in 2000, when RTDNA and other media organizations urged the Court to make a recording of arguments in Bush v. Gore available quickly due to the extraordinary importance of the case, which would determine the outcome of the presidential election. And since 2010, Chief Justice Roberts has approved the release of same-day audio for a handful of high-visibility cases, such as the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 in 2013. The release of same-day audio allows radio, television and digital media outlets an opportunity to report more thoroughly on such cases in a timely manner, using the tools of the trade.

A number of federal appeals courts have implemented press- and public-friendly audio policies in recent years. For example, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit announced, to much praise, that his court would place audio files of its hearings online by 3:00 p.m. on the day a case was argued. The Third Circuit (based in Philadelphia), Seventh (Chicago), Eighth (St. Louis) and the Federal Circuit (Washington, D.C.) also place same-day audio of arguments online, while the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco) not only uploads same-day audio to its website, but it also live-streams the proceedings.

RTDNA will continue to work toward the goal of full video and audio coverage of Supreme Court proceedings, and urge the implementation of fair media coverage policies in courts at every level.