But, like their fellow state supreme court justices across the country, where live coverage of such sessions is the norm, they managed to get through it without a jurist pandering and pontificating or a lawyer showboating or anyone waving at the camera.
Truth be told, the televised New Mexico hearing at times was a bit legalistic and dull, just like the oral arguments that take place at the U.S. Supreme Court, which may never be televised.
Cameras at the Supreme Court is hardly a new topic, but it got a spirited rehashing last week at an event called “Today’s Supreme Court: Tradition v. Technology and Transparency.” Given that it was sponsored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, one need not be clairvoyant to guess how the panelists came out.
But Tony Mauro, the National Law Journal correspondent who has covered the court for 33 years, said barring cameras is not the only example of tradition trumping new technology.
Some courts live-stream audio of their arguments; except for rare occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court releases audio of its oral arguments at the end of the week (although transcripts are released within hours of the argument). Recordings of the bench announcements of court decisions aren’t available until the next term begins months later.
Financial disclosure forms for most public officials are available online. Those of the justices must be obtained from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts “on paper, for a fee, and only after the justices have been told who’s asking for them,” Mauro said.
Petitions to the court and amicus briefs in cases are not on the court’s Web site; private entities such as the American Bar Association and the unaffiliated SCOTUSblog fill the gap.
The justices provide no reason when they recuse themselves from cases. Their public schedules are not routinely distributed.
“News of their whereabouts and their health is very hit-and-miss,” Mauro said, “and dependent on how much or how little information the justices want to release.”
All of this underscores a gap between the public’s perception of the court as opaque and mysterious — as someone who covers the court, I’m often asked whether I’m “allowed to ever meet the justices” — and the justices’ views that they are the most transparent of government institutions.
To them, it’s the product that matters. They are fond of saying that all the information on which they base their monumental decisions is public record available to all who want to study it.
Alone among public officials, they must give detailed explanations for their decisions — each of the nine signs on to the majority opinion that provides the legal justifications for the ruling or issues a dissent with competing reasoning.