From Justice Clarence Thomas breaking a yearlong silence to Chief Justice John Roberts being a stickler for his fellow justices’ time limits, the U.S. Supreme Court’s first live-streamed hearing Monday proved to be a popular breakthrough in transparency for the nation’s highest court.
The argument may have been bland — as justices worked through a trademark dispute over whether an Internet site by Booking.com could trademark its name since the word “booking” is so generic — but many were fascinated to the hear the voices of the justices at work in real time.
“Now that we know with certainty that live audio does not impair its functioning, there’s no reason for the court to return to its outmoded policy of week’s end audio releases once we’re past the pandemic,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan transparency advocacy group, said.
Currently, the court does not allow video or cameras in the courtroom. It only on rare occasion has allowed audio recording to be released on the same day.
Thomas, who had not made a comment in more than a year, appeared to take advantage of Roberts calling on justices in order of seniority for questions to direct inquiries to Booking.com and government attorneys. In turn, he asked as many questions as any of the justices.
Justices asked questions over the phone, largely preventing the usually lively back-and-forth the court has come to be known for between the justices and the lawyers, and at times each other.
Lisa Blatt, who represented Booking.com, responded from the dining room of her home in Washington, D.C., while Justice Department attorney Erica Ross spoke from the solicitor general’s conference room.
The court will hear a case involving the contraceptive requirement in the Affordable Care Act later this week and President Donald Trump’s effort to keep his financial records from Congress next week.
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