The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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October 28, 2013

At Supreme Court, tradition trumps technology, and transparency

— WASHINGTON — Anyone with an Internet connection last week could have watched the justices probe and ponder and question whether the constitution contains a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry.

Now, there were only five justices, they happened to be sitting in their courtroom in Santa Fe and the constitution in question belongs to the state of New Mexico.

But, like their fellow state supreme court justices across the country, where live coverage of such sessions is the norm, they managed to get through it without a jurist pandering and pontificating or a lawyer showboating or anyone waving at the camera.

Truth be told, the televised New Mexico hearing at times was a bit legalistic and dull, just like the oral arguments that take place at the U.S. Supreme Court, which may never be televised.

Cameras at the Supreme Court is hardly a new topic, but it got a spirited rehashing last week at an event called "Today's Supreme Court: Tradition v. Technology and Transparency." Given that it was sponsored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, one need not be clairvoyant to guess how the panelists came out.

But Tony Mauro, the National Law Journal correspondent who has covered the court for 33 years, said barring cameras is not the only example of tradition trumping new technology.

Some courts live-stream audio of their arguments; except for rare occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court releases audio of its oral arguments at the end of the week (although transcripts are released within hours of the argument). Recordings of the bench announcements of court decisions aren't available until the next term begins months later.

Financial disclosure forms for most public officials are available online. Those of the justices must be obtained from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts "on paper, for a fee, and only after the justices have been told who's asking for them," Mauro said.

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