Like so many parents who have been sheltering in place with their children, I have been conscripted into the role of homeschool teacher—or, more particularly, I am a teacher’s aide, charged with shepherding my elementary-school student through remotely assigned tasks. In this role, I have been reminded that simply arriving at an answer—even the right answer—is not enough. To get full credit, the student must “show her work,” carefully laying out the steps by which she arrived at the answer.
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would show its work on a wider scale, hearing oral arguments via telephone and providing media outlets with a live-stream of the proceedings. This unprecedented move offers the prospect of greater transparency from a Court whose work has been uniquely—and stubbornly—sequestered from public view.
Normally, members of the public are allowed to attend oral arguments, but access is limited, and often requires waiting in line overnight, particularly for the most controversial cases. Because the Court refuses to televise its proceedings, the rest of the world must make do with audio recordings of oral arguments, which, along with argument transcripts, are released days later. Justices’ conferences, where they discuss their views on cases, are conducted privately (and that is not changing). Only when decisions are announced do the majority of Americans get any sense of the Court’s thinking. The move to live-streamed oral arguments will, for the first time, offer all Americans real-time admission to the nation’s highest court, sating the interest of longtime Court watchers while also attracting new audiences.