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.
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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.
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