Gramm-Rudman-Hollings aficionados received a blow last month when Chief Justice Warren E. Burger turned down a request for live radio broadcast of the Supreme Court's forthcoming oral arguments on the balanced-budget law.
But there's worse news. Time was when court watchers could have gone to the National Archives three years after an argument and listened to a tape of the give-and-take. The court, which has been taping such arguments for 30 years, routinely turned the tapes over to the Archives.
However, the court stopped the practice after the 1976 term. The justices offered no explanation -- they still don't -- for the policy change, but word is that they were irked when CBS correspondent Fred Graham aired a portion of one of the arguments.
Now comes possible good news. The post-1976 tapes, which have been piling up at the court, may yet become available. The National Law Journal called attention to the situation in October with an article by Associated Press reporter Richard Carelli. Shortly afterward, Burger met with acting archivist Frank G. Burke and expressed interest in reviving the practice of making the tapes available.
Burke's staff proposed guidelines to handle Burger's reported concerns about possible use of the tapes for "commercial purposes" as opposed to research and education.
On Dec. 15, Archives officials sent a draft agreement to the court. There the matter sits, apparently waiting for the justices to decide whether the public, having paid for the microphone, has some rights to hear the product.
Meanwhile, seats are at a premium for the arguments on Gramm-Rudman-Hollings -- at two hours, twice the time usually allotted to present a case. No one expects crowds of the size that gathered in 1974 to hear arguments in U.S. v. Nixon, when Watergate freaks camped out all night in front of the court, hoping to get in.
Still, a full house is likely April 23, and it doesn't take many to fill the courtroom. There are 298 seats in the public area, 70 of them reserved for members of the Supreme Court bar on a first-come basis.
Court officials are reserving a minimum of 50 seats for the public. Subtract another dozen or so for members of Congress who challenged the constitutionality of the law and are plaintiffs in the case.
That brings the available seats down to about 165 and shrinking fast. The justices (who have 30 seats available in the separate "justices' section") can reserve a total of 54 in the public section. In addition, the nine top officials at the court -- such as the clerk, marshal, librarian -- can claim another 54.
Conceivably, only 57 or so seats could be left for those who gave us Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in the first place -- members of the House and Senate.
Court officials say they will try to "accommodate" representatives and senators and have already received a handful of requests. But staffers beware -- these seats are going on a members-only basis. No 25-year-olds claiming to be Rep. Claude Pepper will get by.
The press section has about 85 seats. Already there are requests for 70 of those and little question that the section will be overflowing when the arguments begin.