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Historic First Live Broadcast From the Supreme Court

COVID-19 has altered many aspects of life, but will this change remain once the pandemic is over?

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The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States judiciary branch – the nine judges (justices) who sit on the court hear some of the most important legal cases in the country. For the first time ever, the public is able to listen in to live arguments made in the highest court.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the justices are unable to meet – so they decided to operate via online conferencing. To keep the public informed, a livestream will be broadcast so members of the public can hear what’s going on.

Does this livestream signal a boon to liberty and a more transparent judiciary, or will this be a one-off event from the court in Washington, D.C.?

Any New Business?

The court was closed to the public and all oral arguments were suspended during April; May 4 is the first day back. For this historic occasion, arguments will be presented during a phone conference with the justices – and this time, everyone else can join them.

In normal times, standard court practice would involve some members of the public being granted admission to the gallery, but with COVID-19 playing havoc across much of the country, new methods are being tried out.

Recordings of court sessions have been made since 1955, with these slices of audio history being stored by the National Archives and Records Administration. However, until 2010, the oral arguments of one term were not made available until the beginning of the next. In more recent years, recordings of these sessions would be made public at the end of each week.

So why is the court going ahead with live broadcasts now?

Strange Times

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest in the land and is subject to the same code of transparency that is expected of all branches of government. This openness is normally facilitated by the seated audience and an audio record available to the public.

With social distancing measures enacted across much of the nation, this first aspect of transparency is just not practicable. Not to mention the justices themselves will also not be convening in the traditional sense. To ensure that the process of law remains above suspicion, a live broadcast provides reassurance to Americans that they will be kept in the loop.

Will this livestream signal a new technological age for the Supreme Court, or will things go back to normal once the pandemic is over?

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