Leahy urges Supreme Court to continue transparency after pandemic

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Leahy urges Supreme Court to continue transparency after pandemic

Sat, 05/30/2020 - 5:20am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are pressing the US Supreme Court to make permanent the live audio access to oral arguments it has adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they further asked the Court to allow live video coverage of its proceedings. Leahy and Grassley also noted that the vast majority of Americans support audio and video access to our nation’s justice system.

“Given this widespread support for access to our nation’s highest court – and the countless contributions it makes towards the civics education of the American public – there is no reason why pro-transparency measures should end when the Court returns to its normal functions,” the senators wrote in a letter today to Chief Justice John Roberts.

“We urge you, Mr. Chief Justice, to consider our request and bear in mind all those who would benefit most – including our democracy itself – from these simple yet meaningful measures of transparency,” they continued.

The Court recently began allowing live audio streams of oral arguments conducted via teleconference following pandemic-induced lockdowns.  The unprecedented live audio feed broadened real-time access to the Supreme Court’s proceedings for millions of Americans, far beyond the Court’s limited seating capacity.  The move sparked widespread praise from transparency advocates and the American public.

Leahy and Grassley together have long sought greater transparency in the nation’s federal courts.  In 2018, they pressed the Supreme Court for same-day access to audio of oral arguments.  Leahy and Grassley have also championed legislation to increase media and public access to court proceedings such as the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2019 (S.770).  

Full text of Grassley’s and Leahy’s letter to the Chief Justice follows:

May 29, 2020

The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

Chief Justice

Supreme Court of the United States

Washington, DC 20543

Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

We write to urge the Supreme Court to make permanent its recent efforts to increase transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing live audio streams of all oral arguments commencing with its October 2020 term. Moreover, we urge the Court to build upon these measures by providing live video access to arguments as well—a commonsense reform that has enjoyed longstanding bipartisan support in Congress.[1] Such access to the courtroom will empower Americans to become more informed participants in our system of government.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, the Court wisely conducted oral arguments throughout the month of May via teleconference to ensure the health and safety of all participants. To the Court’s credit, these arguments were not kept behind closed doors. Rather, for the first time in history, the Court provided regular live-streamed audio access to the public. Americans clearly approve of this level of transparency. According to recently released polls, 83% of Americans supported such access, and nearly 70% called for all courts to allow cameras in the courtroom.[2] Given this widespread support for access to our nation’s highest court – and the countless contributions it makes towards the civics education of the American public – there is no reason why pro-transparency measures should end when the Court returns to its normal functions.

By providing live audio access, the Court clearly demonstrated its technical capability to provide prompt disclosure and transparency to the public. And from all indications, the business before the Court was conducted in as dignified and professional a manner as is witnessed inside the courtroom under more normal circumstances. As the Washington Post correctly observed, “The [audio] broadcasts have been an unmitigated success.”[3] And as the Chicago Tribune asserts, “If hearing is good, seeing and hearing is better…. Maybe the experience with live audio will make the justices realize that there is nothing to fear from video. The work they do is a vital part of our system of government, and every American should have the opportunity to see how they do it.”[4] We agree.

We urge you, Mr. Chief Justice, to consider our request and bear in mind all those who would benefit most – including our democracy itself – from these simple yet meaningful measures of transparency.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

U.S. Senator

Senate Judiciary Committee

Patrick Leahy

U.S. Senator

Senate Judiciary Committee


[1] See, e.g., S.770, Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2019; and S.822, Cameras in the Courtroom Act, 116th Congress.

[2] Kalvis Golde, Public approves of live access to Supreme Court arguments, polls show, SCOTUSblog (May. 21, 2020), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/05/public-approves-of-live-access-to-supreme-court-arguments-polls-show/.

[3] Editorial Board, The Supreme Court sounds great. Keep the broadcasts coming, The Washington Post (May 23, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-supreme-court-sounds-great-keep-the-broadcasts-coming/2020/05/22/887895ba-9b04-11ea-89fd-28fb313d1886_story.html.

[4] Editorial Board, Live audio from the Supreme Court? Now, let’s have video, Chicago Tribune (May 26, 2020), https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/editorials/ct-editorial-cameras-supreme-court-audio-20200526-mgl6mknvfzgsllt7oxxqhrsgme-story.html.

Source: (FRIDAY, May 29, 2020) -- Senators Patrick Leahy