If I want to hear Supreme Court case as it is argued, I have the luxury of being able to pop across town and grab a seat to listen (if I get there early enough). The vast majority of you? For the most part – tough luck. Well, if you add a reminder on your calendar – say, well into the next year, you might be able to snag a recording somewhere. But you’re interested in hearing the process of deciding the most important legal issues of the day? You’ll just have to cross your fingers and hope that the Chief Justice deigns it to be appropriate to permit a time-delayed broadcast. As Dahlia Lithwick puts it:
It’s the modern-day equivalent of the feudal lord opening up the castle to his serfs for one drunken night at Christmas: It’s condescending, it’s irrational, and it reinforces the worst stereotypes about a secretive, elitist high court.
The next open castle will be on Monday, for two affirmative action cases. But don’t you, as a citizen, wonder what it is that the Court thinks makes you unworthy of hearing most of what are otherwise completely open proceedings? I think that Lithwick gets it exactly right – it’s a secretive elitist high court. And sadly (for this particular purpose), there’s nothing that can be done about it. The Court is the sole authority on its own operations, and has chosen to remain as closed as possible to the general public, even 20 years after the Senate opened its chambers to television cameras. All we can hope is that the new Chief Justice is given reason to seriously reconsider the Court’s position before he gets too comfortable with the insulated nature of the place.
I’m generally a strong defender of the judiciary, but in this case, I think they deserve all of the criticism and pressure we can muster.