The US Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments during Corona virus pandemic over teleconference. This is to comply with social distancing and prevent the spread of the disease. But why are they making the live audio feed available to the press and public in real time; something they have been steadfastly reluctant to allow? (Some say recalcitrant.)

related: Why does the United States Supreme Court oppose cameras, when Australia's, Canada's, and UK's have permitted them?

1 Answer 1


Normally this is "available to the public" in the sense that the normal court proceedings are open to the public, and will be attended by both the press and members of the public. This is in holding with traditional views of the judiciary about itself as doing the people's work, and the historical concerns that non-public hearings are a vector for corruption and injustice. Most federal courts, and some state courts, in the US have discretion on whether they allow things like cameras, and when a court does decide to allow them it's usually because the case has such vast and important public interest that the court decides it must expand access to satisfy the people and do their work. The OJ Simpson and Ted Bundy cases (the latter being one of the first criminal trials ever televised) come to mind as examples.

The SCOTUS hasn't allowed recordings on normal proceedings, at least in part out of fear that the Justices would change their behaviors and ultimately rulings as a result; but not necessarily solely for that, as tradition alone is a powerful force within SCOTUS. But the current situation is exceptional, as in-person attendance by anyone is essentially ruled out. So to retain that critically important aspect of public access and open proceedings, they have essentially no choice but to provide a live stream.

  • Thanks. The typical public audience for SCOTUS arguments is as few as fifty persons sometimes, and it is a drastic step to livestream on tv. The court could have reached an intermediate ground such as allowing live remote listening to a limited public audience and /Or providing press with live feed but not authority to live broadcast it. Commented May 6, 2020 at 23:34
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    @NaftaliTzvi It is easier to justify haves and have-nots when you are constrained by physical space. Harder when there are practically no limitations (beyond server bandwidth, etc.). As a practical matter it is probably easier to implement full access, and unlikely that nobody among the "permitted" wouldn't end up sharing the stream far and wide. It would be interesting if the Justices discussed a limited share and how that panned out to the actual decision, but I'm doubtful we'd know that any time soon, if ever. Commented May 7, 2020 at 0:22

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