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Senators Press Chief Justice Roberts for Faster Release of Supreme Court Audio

Letter comes as Roberts renews opposition to cameras in the Court

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is facing a new call from key senators for faster release of Supreme Court audio. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is facing a new call from key senators for faster release of Supreme Court audio. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of his predecessors have teamed up to press Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., to release audio of all arguments on the same day that they take place.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley and Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy made the request of the Supreme Court in a June 29 letter to Roberts that was publicly circulated on Monday.

“Transparency should be the rule, not the exception,” wrote Grassley and Leahy. “We note that the Court’s current practice of posting audio recordings at the end of each week stands in stark contrast to the practice of nearly every other federal circuit, some of which provide live-streaming of oral arguments to listeners across the country and around the world.”

The specific request for a same-day release of audio, which the senators note the court actually did in the case regarding President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel from certain countries, does not go as far as pushing for video cameras.

Grassley has previously worked with Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois on legislation that would require cameras be allowed into the Supreme Court unless the justices have specific cause to block them for an individual argument.

Grassley and Leahy dated the letter the same day that Roberts expressed his ongoing opposition to the addition of cameras.

“Television has — changes a lot, and I ask people, you know, which public institution has been improved by being televised? Some of the senators mentioned to me early on in my tenure that they thought the televising of proceedings of the Senate had a deleterious effect,” Roberts said Friday. “They said they used to actually do things on the Senate floor and now they don’t.”

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“It’s nice to be able to see one senator standing up and speaking, but it’s usually, you know, to an empty chamber,” Roberts said, speaking Friday at the Federal Judicial Conference of the Fourth Circuit.

Roberts said he had concerns about both justices and lawyers playing to the cameras, citing a hypothetical example of an auto company facing a discrimination lawsuit that might find time before the justices better spent engaged in a public relations campaign than debating the legal minutiae of the actual claim.

Perhaps knowing the chief justice’s reservations about cameras, Grassley and Leahy did not suggest taking that leap in their Friday letter. Audio is currently generally released at the end of the week when the Supreme Court is in session.

“By releasing same-day audio recordings of all oral arguments, the Court has a unique opportunity to open up its proceedings beyond the select few who will ever have the chance to be physically present during arguments,” the senators wrote. “Most importantly, the American public will grow in its appreciation of  and confidence in — the rule of law that safeguards our constitutional system.”

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