SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Broadcasters denied quick release of audio for high-profile case

By Mark Sherman, AP
Thursday, April 15, 2010

No audio for broadcasters in Supreme Court case

WASHINGTON — For the first time in four years, the Supreme Court has gone an entire term without granting the quick release of audio recordings of high-profile arguments.

The court said Wednesday it has rejected a request from four broadcasters for the same-day audio in an important First Amendment case next week that pits a Christian campus organization against the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

With television cameras and reporters’ tape recorders barred from the court, the availability of audio provides the public with a chance to hear the justices at work.

The last time the court provided audio the same day as an argument was in September in a key case about limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions. The first time was in Bush v. Gore, the case that helped settle the 2000 presidential election.

Since the current term began in October, the justices have turned down seven requests for the audio, including a March 2 argument over the reach of the constitutional right to own guns, according to statistics compiled by the C-SPAN cable network.

C-SPAN, ABC, CNN and Fox jointly asked for audio in the upcoming case. There are no requests for the other seven cases being argued in April, the last argument session this term.

The court typically doesn’t explain its actions, but there is some thought that releasing the audio more frequently would start the court down the slippery slope toward cameras in the courtroom.

In September, a questioner at a University of Michigan law school event asked Chief Justice John Roberts why audio is not made available more often.

“At the end of the day, it’s not our job to educate,” Roberts said. “It’s our job to decide cases.”

When Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday, C-SPAN cameras will be there. And if past sessions are any guide, lawmakers will ask the justices about televising their proceedings the same way Congress does.

That won’t happen anytime soon, with Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Anthony Kennedy among those most opposed to cameras at the Supreme Court.

The newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, suggested at her Senate confirmation hearing last year that she would try to soften the opposition. Judge Diane Wood, a contender for the seat that will come open when Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer, recently told a Washington audience that she too is open to cameras. “I personally don’t think it would be the end of the world,” Wood said, adding that other judges on her federal appeals court in Chicago disagree.

Justice Samuel Alito was in his usual place, his seat on the far left of the bench, when the court met Monday, April 5. A few hours later, however, Alito and his entire staff had seats at the season opener between the Washington Nationals and his beloved Philadelphia Phillies.

Alito revealed this and other snippets about his favorite sport and team in the course of a lengthy interview with the Philadelphia Daily News that showed off his sophisticated knowledge of the game.

The 60-year-old New Jersey native grew up in the 1950s halfway between New York and Philadelphia, in a neighborhood with divided baseball loyalties. He became a Phillies fan because his father was one, he suspects.

The justice lamented the use of steroids in baseball, particularly because players with an unfair advantage skewed the statistics. “So when you have a whole era in which it seems pretty obvious now that a lot of players were using illegal substances and as a result have elevated statistics, it undermines something that’s very important to the game,” he said.

Given a vote for the Hall of Fame, Alito said, “I would probably not vote for a player who was known to have taken steroids.”

While he and Sotomayor were mum last fall, Alito acknowledged they had a friendly wager on the outcome of the World Series, won by Sotomayor’s New York Yankees.

If the Phillies had won, Sotomayor would have had to buy Philly cheesesteaks. Instead, Alito said, he sprang for a New York favorite, Nathan’s hot dogs.

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