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Friday, August 11, 2006 

Time for the Supremes to Cut an Album

Amanda Frost at Concurring Opinions thinks that it's time for the Supreme Court to have same-day audio of their oral arguments available...
Same-day release of oral argument audio tapes was unheard of until December 2000, when the Court permitted it in Bush v. Gore. Since then, the Court has several times allowed the immediate release of oral argument audio tapes in high profile cases, such as those concerning the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees and challenges to affirmative action programs in higher education. But the vast majority of oral arguments are inaccessible to anyone who cannot wangle a seat at a Supreme Court argument. An official at the Court's Public Information Office said only that it was the Court's "tradition" to withhold tapes of oral arguments for release until the start of the next term, months after the cases have been decided. The Court should rethink that practice.
I was one of the people who was on C-SPAN's website listening to the audio from the Hamdan case. It was great to hear (well, not great, since the Solicitor General was getting kicked around by Stevens and Breyer pretty well).

I think that there is a definite interest in these recordings. I took advantage of the oral argument podcasts available from Oyez. They are still on my iTunes, and I don't think they are going anywhere soon. I have a few choice selections from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals as well. You can get their oral arguments from their website in MP3 format.

Many of the cases before the Court are high profile enough that there is broad interest in these recordings. Even if the cases aren't high profile, there are lawyers, professors, and others who have particular areas of interest (election law, tax law, estate law, etc.) that want to hear about a case that is significant in their field. It is true that the transcripts are available, and Frost touches on that...
Although transcripts of oral arguments are published on the Supreme Court's website, they are not available until approximately ten days after the argument, and in any case a cold transcript is no substitute for an audio recording because the tone of voice, pace of response, and emphasis on certain words and phrasings is lost.
The ten day lag is a pain. There usually is some media coverage of the argument for the major cases, but reporters usually give us an incredibly superficial analysis of what was said. Some blogs, like SCOTUS, provide decent coverage, but one generally has to read many accounts of the argument to get a clear picture of what was said.

I'd love to be able to go to the Court's website, download the day's arguments into my iPod, and listen to them over the course of the afternoon and evening. It would make blogging about the case a hell of a lot easier, and I love to hear the soothing tones of Justice Ginsburg's voice. Or not.

I think that this is a "tradition" that can be broken without much, if any, harm being done to the Court. It isn't the invasion that cameras in the Court would be, and it's a practice that the Court engages in already. We would just be asking them to speed things up a bit.

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