Statement | Good on the Supreme Court for keeping live sound. Now it’s time to move on.

As the Supreme Court begins a new term on Monday, there is at least one development that should be welcomed by observers from all ideological backgrounds. The court announced Wednesday that it will allow the public back into the room for arguments. At the same time, it will maintain its live audio feed, which began during the covid-19 pandemic. Good for the right to embrace transparency and engagement with ordinary Americans. Now is the time to make live broadcasts permanent – and consider going even further with live video.

In 2020, the court closed its doors due to covid-19 restrictions and instead decided to broadcast audio recordings of oral arguments. Although the pandemic was the catalyst for the change, this was a long-standing move: Numerous federal appeals courts and state supreme courts had already adopted live recordings with great success.

There was opposition from some judges and court observers, who worried that broadcasts would encourage lawyers and judges to show and dramatize cases. But live audio hasn’t hurt the quality of arguments during the pandemic — and it’s made the legal process much more accessible to the American public. In the first six months of broadcasts alone, more than 2 million people listened to at least one oral argument.

With public confidence in the Supreme Court at an all-time low, this kind of engagement is vital. If Americans feel more informed about case law, it would improve institutional legitimacy and repair trust — an important matter for the court as calls for ill-considered reforms such as court packing gain steam.

In fact, the court should not stop with audio broadcasts. There is no good reason to keep cameras out of courtrooms. When used in state cases, even those that are high-profile and fraught, they have provided tremendous clarity and insight into the legal process. Yet the Supreme Court — and most of the federal system — has upheld an archaic ban on cameras, let alone video live streaming. According to polls, a majority of Americans want that changed, as do members of Congress from both parties.

In 2021, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) legislation to put cameras in the Supreme Court. Mr. Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also introduced a bill to expand video coverage of federal court proceedings. Both bills were approved by the Judiciary Committee last summer, but have since stalled. There are fair debates about whether Congress should impose this kind of reform on the courts — but there is broad agreement that the change itself would be beneficial.

For centuries, the Supreme Court’s open procedure was a mystery to all but a few Americans who could attend in person. The Court’s recent embrace of audio technology has opened up arguments to millions, giving the public invaluable insight into how major constitutional questions are resolved. It is an important step forward — but should be the beginning, not the end, of efforts to increase trust and transparency in the system.

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