“On November 10, 1893, the Washington Post identified an emerging technology that was reshaping American society: Pneumatics!” This is how Chief Justice John Roberts began his 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, in which he announced a long-overdue move to put court documents online. But he stopped well short of embracing other obvious improvements, such as live video or audio from the Supreme Court chamber.
Allow us to reclaim some dignity. Sure, zipping documents around in metal tubes wasn’t the most important communication technology ever created, or even the most important created around that time. But audio and video broadcasting — on television, radio and the Internet — is not the next big thing. It is a long-been thing. We’ve thought the Supreme Court should allow cameras in its chamber for a long time. The court doesn’t allow live video broadcasts and only sometimes makes exceptions for audio. Typically, those interested in a full account of the day’s cases must read transcripts posted hours after oral arguments occur or wait for the court to release audiotapes at week’s end.
Reporters must read from transcripts stripped of crucial cues such as tone of voice and facial expression, which opens a wide opportunity for mistaken or deliberate misinterpretation. For the sake of the public’s understanding of the legal process and the integrity of public debate, the court should do all it can to ensure that discussion is well-informed.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST