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U.S. Supreme Court

Does the S.C. Need to Open Up More?

Posted Apr 23, 2008 11:47 AM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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Veteran Supreme Court reporter Tony Mauro sure thinks the country's highest arbiter could stand a little more sunshine. And Mauro would like to see some demystifying by justices who aren't just trying to sell a book.

"Thank goodness U.S. Supreme Court justices write books. Otherwise, the public would almost never see them," Mauro writes in an opinion piece for a USA Today blog.

So what set Mauro off on a rant about Supreme Court secrecy?

Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the justices who has most shied away from the media, set to appear on the Sunday evening news show 60 Minutes to promote the new book he co-authored.

Mauro, who is the Supreme Court reporter for Legal Times, isn't upset about the appearance. Far from it, he says. "No matter what the motivation, it's great when one of the nine justices emerges from the shadows to engage the American public. These appearances remind the citizenry that the Supreme Court is composed of real human beings rather than disembodied oracles who decide life and death issues without ever making contact with the taxpayers who fund their salaries."

Mauro, however, advocates for a more systematic way for justices to engage the public. He credits Chief Justice John Roberts with being far more open than his predecessors. Oral argument transcripts are more readily available.

But Mauro says the court could be doing much more, including following the lead of several federal appellate courts, which allow listeners to download MP3 audio of recent oral arguments and ceremonies. And state supreme courts are more routinely archiving, for the public, video of arguments.

The public should have more access to justices than when they are first nominated and upon their retirement. "In between," Mauro asserts, "when they are doing the public's business, they drop out of sight—unless they have a book to sell. In a democracy dependent on an informed public, that's no way for its nine most important judges to operate."

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