America’s typical amusements—March Madness, the NBA playoffs, Major League Baseball Opening Day, the U.S. Open, the Masters—have suddenly disappeared. Just in time, though, a new Big League debuts tomorrow, offering a welcome spectacle of bare-knuckle combat, vicious competition, taunts, and trash talk.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will return on May 9. Until then, the United States Supreme Court is the only show in town.
Starting Monday, the Court will at long last air the audio of oral arguments live. For the first time ever, the public will be able to experience oral argument as it happens. This was formerly the sole prerogative of justices, lawyers, reporters, and the few citizens who are able to gain tickets by waiting for hours (or days).
The format will be rather staid, whether one is watching on C-SPAN or listening via the radio or the internet. I have always thought a Court broadcast should be a cross between TV coverage of Wimbledon and the World Series of Poker—hushed, aristocratic-sounding announcers whispering comments on strategy while an Upshot-like needle moves back and forth, changing the predicted outcome with each question and answer.
But that’s not likely: Rather, we will probably see a graphic depicting the justice or lawyer who is speaking. Argument will begin with the traditional “cry” of the marshal, “Oyez, oyez, oyez: All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable Court.” Next, the chief justice will call the case, saying, “We will hear argument in [the number of the case],” then recognize the first counsel to argue. Each side is usually allotted 30 minutes for argument; this is sometimes divided between the individual parties and amici, or organizations with a strong interest in the outcome. The party that argues first—the “petitioner” or “appellant,” depending on the case—will have three minutes at the end for rebuttal.