Facts on Technology, Transparency & Ethics at SCOTUS

Technology:

  • Neither audio nor video recording devices are allowed in the Supreme Court during oral arguments or opinion announcements.
  • The Court only releases same-day audio recordings from oral arguments of select cases where public attention is already high. Otherwise, the public has to rely on written transcripts to know what happened during an oral argument or wait until the end of the week when the audio is posted online.
  • The Court has refused to allow cameras in the courtroom because they claim it would make the process more confusing for the public and encourage justices and advocates to act out for the cameras. But these predictions haven’t held in lower courts where cameras are allowed.
  • The Court frequently makes decisions that affect technology and science, but the institution still operates as if it were in a bygone era. The justices communicate through handwritten and hand-delivered notes – and when they do try to include Web citations in their documents, a recent study found that half the links are broken.

Transparency:

  • The justices’ financial disclosure forms provide less information than those of executive branch officials or members of Congress.
  • To obtain a copy of a justice’s financial disclosure forms, reporters must pay for a hard copy and their names are reported back to the Court – and they must go to the Court to pick them up, whereas the President, Vice President and members of Congress post their disclosure forms online.
  • The Supreme Court lacks a standardized recusal process, leaving it to the justices to decide what constitutes a conflict on a per-case basis.
  • Opinion announcements happen out of the view of cameras, often creating more confusion as news organizations scramble to interpret lengthy or often confusing decisions.
  • Unlike presidential papers, there is no statutory requirement for justices’ papers and official correspondence to be preserved or archived for eventual disclosure.
  • Unlike Congress and the President, the Court doesn’t have a dedicated press corps that covers them outside of D.C.
  • Unlike the President or presidential candidates, justices are not required to disclose any information about their health.

Ethics:

  • Unlike all other federal judges, Supreme Court justices are not bound by a code of conduct.
  • The justices frequently receive reimbursements for travel and lodging from outside groups.
  • The justices are free to interact with groups that have filed briefs or are otherwise involved in pending cases.
  • The justices are not accountable to any meaningful oversight authority.

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