The U.S. Supreme Court starts its new term today, because that’s the tradition—the first Monday in October.
Here’s another custom: No cameras are allowed in the courtroom.
That makes the room where the highest court in the land presides one of the few low-tech places left in the United States. And if the video equipment that’s been around for close to a century is a no-no, you can be sure there’s not going to be much live-tweeting going on.
That’s too bad for people monitoring some of the colossal cases scheduled for the 2019-2020 term, including ones on abortion, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), LGBTQ discrimination, the insanity defense, and guns.
The aversion to having cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court isn’t surprising for the storied institution, which is notoriously slow to change. Do you know what happens before the justices enter the courtroom? The marshal says, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!”
As recently as March, members of the court, which first assembled in 1790, have expressed little interest in having their proceedings captured on videotape. (They’re not alone; federal judges, for the most part, can decide whether they want cameras in their courtrooms, and state laws differ by jurisdiction.) Among the concerns are lawyers and justices grandstanding for the camera and comments or questions asked of lawyers being taken out of context or turned into soundbites.
While testifying before a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Supreme Court budget, Justice Elena Kagan said, “If the seeing came at the expense of the way the institution functioned, that would be a very bad bargain, and I do worry that cameras might come at that expense.”
She added that the issue hasn’t been discussed by all nine of them in conference since she joined the court in 2010.
For now, the closest thing you’ll get to real-time info is decidedly more low-tech: Same-day transcripts of oral arguments are available on the court’s website, www.supremecourt.gov. That public access was introduced in October 2006. For free audio recordings, you have to wait until Fridays for them to be posted, something that was first done in October 2010.
The term that begins today is the first full term since the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who marked the first anniversary of his appointment yesterday.