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If Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Carolyn Shapiro had her way, the public would have already heard audiotape of the dramatic announcement June 28 of the decision and dissents in the Affordable Care Act case. In spite of requests from the news media, however, it appears that the Court’s policy of releasing recordings of opinion announcements long after the end of each term still stands. Shapiro has started a center at her school that aims to demystify the Court’s operating procedures and provide more resources about the institution to lawyers and the public at large. At the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States, Shapiro wants to have “honest conversation” about the Court’s role in society. “There’s a real hunger for more information,” said Shapiro, the center’s director. “Information that isn’t being pushed by somebody for his or her own purposes.” To that end, ISCOTUS, as the institute is known, is the new home to the Oyez Project, a popular website that has posted audio of many of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments since the Court first began taping them in 1955. The institute also fosters academic research and holds public events on the high court. A former clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, Shapiro has researched how academics study the Court and the role ideology plays in justices’ decisions. In an article she wrote with colleague Christopher Schmidt in 2010, she explored the rarely used tradition of justices reading from dissents at opinion announcements as a starting point for an exploration of whether the Court is effectively communicating with the public. Justices have read seven dissents from the bench this term including two – Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the health case cases June 28. These spoken dissents can be a powerful communication tool, but institutional traditions sometimes mute their effect, Shapiro said. As audio from opinion announcements is not immediately available, people must rely on the media to learn if justices made impromptu remarks. But the Court’s tendency to read multiple rulings on single days late in the term and its failure to give notice about what cases it will decide on a given date affect journalists’ coverage, she said. “There really seems to be this ambivalence on the part of the Court and the justices about how important it is to speak directly to the public,” Shapiro said. Justice Breyer spoke at the institute’s kick-off last fall. In November, the center will hold an academic conference on the Court’s role in the public. One panel will explore how the Court does – or does not – use technology, such as video cameras. Another will look at how book tours, oral dissents and other communication outside of written opinions affect people’s understanding of the institution. The Oyez Project, which started at Northwestern University and got 18 million page views this year, fits perfectly with the center’s goal of public education, Shapiro said. In addition to audio, the site compiles briefs from Court cases and data on justices’ voting records. While ISCOTUS gives Oyez “academic clout,” the website provides the center with more visibility, site founder and director Jerry Goldman said. “What she brings is experience and a vision for the integration of the work that I’ve done with a clear objective for the institute,” Goldman said of Shapiro’s leadership. Since landing at ISCOTUS, Oyez has posted videos in which Chicago-Kent professors analyzed the questions at issue in the health-care case. “I could write a blog post speculating about what might happen but there are ten zillion blog posts about that,” Shapiro explained. Instead, she said she wants to provide “straightforward legal analysis.” The site also launched mobile apps, PocketJustice and OyezToday, which Shapiro said make it easy for professors and journalists to use clips of oral arguments. Chicago-Kent is part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Shapiro said the university’s focus on innovation helps her center connect with a wide audience. A native of Champaign, Ill., Shapiro went to the University of Chicago Law School before clerking for Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She has taught at Chicago-Kent since 2003. She said location can make it difficult to attract the speakers that the Supreme Court Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center gets, but it also has its benefits. ISCOTUS has helped prepare regional lawyers for oral arguments, and shows that there is no inside-the-beltway monopoly on study of the high court. “There’s something to be said for not being Washington-centric,” Shapiro said. “I think the Court really affects the whole country.” Jamie Schuman is a freelance writer and third-year student at The George Washington University Law School.

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