There’s embarrassment enough to go around in that episode; my shamefaced confession is that I didn’t hear it. So I will move on to matters of substance.
Is the new format better?
The Court suspended oral arguments for the rest of March on March 16 and extended the postponement through April on April 3. But as the lockdown stretched on, pressure to complete the term’s business grew, and on April 13 the Court announced that it would hold arguments by teleconference during May. It has also begun releasing opinions without ceremony, simply by posting them on the Court website at times announced in advance.
The adoption of the teleconference format meant that there was no longer any real rationale for barring the public from listening in real time; media outlets would have access, and the sound would be easy to transmit to the public. Thus, last Monday, Americans for the first time listened in on a live broadcast of the Court.
From my perspective, the new format has been, if nothing else, a pleasant change. But I was curious as to whether that perception was more widely shared. I am lucky enough to know one of the historic figures in the story of the Supreme Court—Lyle Denniston, the legendary reporter who covered the Court without a discernible break from 1958 until his retirement in 2016. To talk with Denniston about arguments is like quizzing Cal Ripken Jr. about baseball. By one estimate, Denniston has observed (and occasionally interacted with) one-quarter of all the justices in Supreme Court history. I think it is safe to say that he has sat through, and analyzed, more high-court arguments than any other living person (including any justice)—probably more than anyone else ever, now or in the future. (Denniston also was a visiting professor at the school where I teach, the University of Baltimore. His lecture series is here and his online course is here.)