The U.S. Supreme Court will provide direct access to the livestream of oral arguments this fall on its website.
The court, which previously provided the feed to certain media outlets, will instead have “a live audio icon” on its homepage, the court said in a press release.
Since the start of the pandemic, the justices have been hearing arguments remotely, livestreaming the proceedings to the public for the first time. The justices have long resisted live audio, instead posting the audio on its website days after the argument.
Attorneys, the public, and some members of Congress have urged the justices to continue to livestream arguments once the Supreme Court returns to normal operations. The court said it will continue to do so at least temporarily when it returns to the courtroom Oct. 4 for the first time since February 2020. Attendance will be limited to attorneys, court staff, and a handful of journalist.
The move has court watchers trying to figure out what it might mean for the future of livestreamed arguments.
“It’s very hard to take away a public right after you’ve given it,” said Jaime Santos, a partner in Goodwin’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. Santos noted that the court has been providing a live feed for more than a year and “the sky hasn’t fallen.”
But Gabe Roth, who advocates for more transparency with the watchdog group Fix the Court, said putting the feed directly on the court’s website “could be the beginning of the end for live audio at the Supreme Court.”
While Roth said he’d like to think the change signaled a desire to cut out the middle man and provide access directly to the public, the shift “makes it easier for the Court to take that access away once its operations go back to what they were pre-COVID.”
The court earlier in the week told counsel that a rapid COVID test would be required before they appear in-person.
“An arguing attorney who receives a positive test will not argue in person, but will instead be expected to participate remotely by telephone connection to the Courtroom,” the court said in guidance issued Sept. 27, which provided tips on how to get the best audio.
“The Court also asks that attorneys wear an N95 or KN95 mask in the Courtroom, except when presenting argument,” it said.