OPEN COURTS -- Among other issues around which Judge Sonia Sotomayor found herself tapdancing in her second session of Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings today was the question of cameras in the courtroom—including in the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court. Short answer: She's not afraid of video coverage herself, but would not try to rock the boat as a freshman justice. Of course, she said it much better.
Meanwhile Daniel Schuman, writing for the Sunlight Foundation, has a few more particularized queries in the area of court transparency via technology:
- Would she support requiring the Supreme Court to place all of its decisions online, going back to the founding of the country? Those rulings, after all, are the law of the land. Currently, less than a decade’s worth of decisions are made available on the Supreme Court’s web site.
- Would she support placing all merits and certiorari briefs on the Supreme Court’s web site, so that citizens can read all the arguments made before the Court, and not just the Court’s final decisions? The Court does not make any of these briefs available on its web site now, and has asked the American Bar Association to publish the merits briefs on the ABA’s web site.
- Would she support making available a contemporaneous transcript of the day’s oral arguments, including audio recordings of the arguments? If so, would she agree to publish the recordings on the Court’s website? Eventually, the National Archives releases audio recordings of arguments that took place before the Court, but not until the start of the next Term in October. However, on a few occasions, the Court has made audio of oral arguments available on the same day the arguments took place. It could do so on a regular basis, and place those audio recordings on its web site.
- Would she advocate that the federal courts should make available online — and at no charge — all proceedings before the Court (filings, orders, opinions, etc.), instead of the current PACER system which charges users to view these public documents?
Come to think of it, the answer she gave on cameras pretty well covers all these items. From those comments we can assume, I think, that if and when the moment comes to consider them, she will be on the side of access—an empathetic advocate.