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Starting in October you won’t have to be inside the marble chamber of the Supreme Court to gain a same-day understanding of the thrust and parry of a particular oral argument. The Court announced Thursday that it will be posting on its Web site the transcripts of oral arguments on the same day they occur — far faster than the previous practice of releasing them up to two weeks afterward. The announcement may seem like a small step that falls well short of opening the Court to television or radio broadcasting. But at an institution that still hands out quill pens to lawyers who argue before it, the change is significant. And access advocates hope it signals a new climate of openness under new Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. “I am pleased to see that the Supreme Court has moved into the 1990s with its same-day release of oral-argument transcripts,” says Northwestern University political science professor Jerry Goldman, who posts the audio of oral arguments on his online Oyez Project. “But reading a transcript is like reading a libretto. It’s a poor substitute for the real performance. Surely better than nothing, but still inadequate for a pillar of American government.” Roberts’ predecessor, the late William Rehnquist, experimented with same-day release of the audio of oral arguments to accommodate the public interest in the Florida presidential election cases of 2000. Similar releases have occurred sporadically ever since, and all the justices who have spoken publicly about the practice have said they approve. But oral-argument transcripts have posed different issues, including the Court’s relationship with the Alderson Reporting Co., which has long provided transcripts to the Court for free — but at a more leisurely pace, usually a week or more after the argument. For a fee, Alderson would also provide transcripts late in the same day or overnight to interested lawyers and other parties, including the press. Alderson officials on Thursday declined to comment on the new arrangement and how it may affect the company’s sales of Court transcripts to private parties. News-media organizations have pressed the Court for years to accelerate the release of transcripts to aid in reporting on the often fast-paced arguments. They noted that at the White House, transcripts of remarks by the president and other top officials are made available almost immediately. To aid the transcribing process, officials said, high-speed technology will be used, and a court reporter will be stationed in the court chamber for the first time. Previously, transcripts were made off site from audiotapes; the Court has audiotaped oral arguments since the 1950s.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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