In historic first, US Supreme Court to be broadcast live

Published: 05:41 PM, 4 May, 2020
In historic first, US Supreme Court to be broadcast live
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After a pause occasioned by the coronavirus, the US Supreme Court will resume hearing cases Monday, but in a small revolution for the tradition-bound institution, the justices will participate from home, with live audio broadcast on radio and television.

The move to greater transparency has been demanded for years in legal circles and was long ago adopted by many state and local courts; but for the Supreme Court, it took a pandemic to make it happen.

In normal times, the top US court meets in its stately neo-classical building directly across First Street from the US Capitol. Two hundred seats in its marble hearing room are reserved for members of the public, who often line up for hours outside the building's white-columned facade for the privilege of hearing the nine justices ponder issues that range from the arcane to the history-changing.

In the courtroom, electronic equipment is strictly banned, and journalists are not allowed to report on the justices' debates until their conclusion. Official recordings of the proceedings -- audio only -- are posted online only days later.

Despite calls for reform, the court has always refused to allow microphones or cameras, saying it does not want to lend undue weight to hearings, which justices say are often less decisive than the written arguments submitted by lawyers.

But on Monday for the first time in history, several media outlets, including the Fox and C-Span networks, will broadcast live the exchanges between the justices, each still confined at home, and lawyers arguing cases. The pandemic has forced the nine justices -- including progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an octogenarian who has been in fragile health -- to telework for nearly two months.

For Monday's hearing, the justices will take part by telephone. But with no cameras involved, they won't have to wear their traditional black robes. "Over my dead body," former justice David Souter once famously said about cameras in the courtroom.

To avoid confusion, the justices will speak in order of their seniority on the court, rather than in their usual impromptu fashion. Television viewers will only see photos of the justices on the screen, above their names.

The court has not said whether the bailiff will open the hearing with his traditional "Oyez, oyez, oyez" call for silence and attention.

The first case, to be heard starting at 10am (1400 GMT) Monday, will deal with whether the popular travel site is allowed to register its name as a trademark -- or whether that would be barred by federal law banning the trademarking of generic terms.

Over the coming two weeks, the court will hear arguments in nine other cases. The most highly anticipated, set for May 12, will deal with whether President Donald Trump's accountants and bankers can be compelled to turn over his financial records to Congress and New York prosecutors. Trump has fought to protect his tax records from public scrutiny.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.