For the first time since 2015, two Supreme Court justices next week will go before a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing to answer questions about the court’s budget, an occasion that members of Congress have used in the past to raise a range of other issues.
Justices Samuel Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan will represent the court at the hearing March 7 before the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government. There was no reason given for why Alito and Kagan are attending, but the court itself has a budget committee, and they are likely to be members.
The House subcommittee is headed by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, who has long pushed for Supreme Court transparency, including allowing cameras in the court. Quigley did not immediately respond to a call for comment, but the resumption of public hearings for the Supreme Court’s budget may be chalked up to the House coming under Democratic control in January. Quigley was ranking member of the committee before this year.
Evan Hollander, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement:
“While a public hearing has not occurred in recent years, the Appropriations Committee is pleased that Justices Alito and Kagan will appear before the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee next week. Hearing from witnesses about budget requests is a key function of the Appropriations Committee, and we look forward to resuming this important practice with the Supreme Court.”
For years, the court’s budget hearing was a major event, not because of budget minutiae but because it fostered a rare unscripted dialogue between the legislative and judicial branches on issues ranging from recusal policies to the dearth of minority law clerks.
But the hearings were called off starting in 2016, the result of purported scheduling conflicts. In 2017, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer met with the subcommittee in private.
“The Supreme Court budget hearing had been one of the few times all year in which Americans could see the justices with their own eyes and not have to rely on outmoded means, like courtroom sketches, to trust that these public servants were, in fact, serving,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, which advocates for Supreme Court transparency.
Roth added: “It’s unfortunate that this practice went underground for three years, but I’m pleased that the justices will return to public view next week. After all, the high court receives about $100 million of our money each year. It would be nice to learn how it plans to spend it.”