For the first time in more than a year, the Supreme Court next week will release the audio of an oral argument on a same-day basis. The Court granted the request sent March 27 to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. seeking same-day access to the audio of arguments in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, a potentially landmark dispute over the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.
C-SPAN, joined by the Washington, D.C., bureau chiefs of ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News, made the request, following a procedure the Court first established during Bush v. Gore in 2000 for accelerated release of audio of arguments with high public interest. Usually, the audio of oral arguments is not public until the following term, when the National Archives makes the audiotapes available -- long after they would have much usefulness for broadcasters. Releasing the tapes on the same day, by contrast, gives broadcast media the chance to supplement their reports for the same or next day with actual excerpts of the arguments.
But the Court is notoriously stingy with the same-day access, allowing it only when an undefined combination of factors is present. The last time the Court said yes to a media request was in March 2008 for the arguments in D.C. v. Heller, the Second Amendment gun rights case.
This term, C-SPAN has requested -- and been denied -- same-day access to the audio of seven other oral arguments: the environmental case Winter v. Natural Resource Defense Council; tobacco cases Altria Group v. Good and Philip Morris v. Williams; the broadcast indecency case FCC v. Fox Television; the religious speech case Pleasant Grove City v. Summum; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, on official immunity; and Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company, on the recusal of elected state judges. The Court offers no explanation for why some requests are granted and others are denied.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.