Real crime documentaries are taking over pop culture. But often that means someone needed access.
From “Serial” to “Making a Murderer,” true crime is the talk of the town these days. It’s clear the public has some room in their hearts for a slice of real courtroom life—and if so, does that mean we’re due for revamp of what “access” looks like?
One such tool, Oyez, was launched in 1993, and boasts recordings dating back to when SCOTUS first allowed arguments to be taped in 1955 (minus a few that have been lost or had terrible quality) it’s a wealth of information for any lawyer or student hoping to bone up on the high court. But with founder Jerry Goldman’s retirement coming this May, the project is set to expire, and without some sort of backing it may disappear. But as Goldman believes, though the Supreme Court themselves hosting argument streaming and transcripts on their site, it still serves a purpose. As The National Law Review writes:
Even if the U.S. Supreme Court announced tomorrow that it would start streaming its arguments online, Oyez would still be necessary, Goldman asserts. That is because it contains landmark arguments ranging from Roe v. Wade to Miranda v. Arizona, and adds explanatory material to each argument.
“The mere fact that you have audio doesn’t mean much if you can’t wrap information around it,” Goldman said. The page for most cases also includes the audio of the decision in the case being announced. Other features include panoramic views of several parts of the court building, and short biographies of every justice.
If Goldman succeeds in finding a nonprofit or other (potentially group of) organization to help back the project, it could mean a remodel to how consumers get their oral arguments—and what they come to expect from the court system.
As is, lengthy opinions and audio recordings are the only current insight the public has into the thought of a judge many judges. Down the line, years later, it’s possible a judge might muse on what a ruling meant or reflected. But for now plenty of federal courts happily ban cameras in their courtroom. And as The Crime Reports writes, any change on that front is coming in small waves:
As TCR reported last week, states that have long prohibited cameras are beginning to question their rules—a sign that it’s probably just a matter of time until cameras are allowed into all state courts. But for federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, change has been slower. And when it comes, it’s more likely to come in “baby steps.”
That’s how one prominent transparency advocate, Gabe Roth, described it. Roth, who is the executive director of Fix the Court and previously managed the Coalition for Court Transparency, called the current Supreme Court system of releasing audio of proceedings at the end of every week “antiquated and undemocratic and ridiculous.”
In surveys asking whether the Supreme Court should broadcast its proceedings, people overwhelmingly support the idea. In a poll conducted last year by C-SPAN and Penn Schoen Berland, 76 percent of respondents said the Supreme Court should allow TV coverage, which is an increase of 15 percent from a 2009 survey.
But, Roth notes in the story, the justices at the Supreme Court care about public opinion “inconsistently.” Though they extended acceptance of cameras in state courtrooms, they have long argued that cameras in their proceedings could misrepresent what goes on, or result in attorneys grandstanding. So though numerous high-profile cases in the past decade or two have heightened public interest into judicial proceedings, the high court has remained steadfastly resolute.
Which has left interested parties to promote change elsewhere: Some legislators have pushed for a bill to impose term limits on the Supreme Court to help gain some understanding and shake up the system. The Supreme Court elected to give audio recordings day-of instead of the usual end of the week during Obergefell v. Hodges last year. And Fix the Court, a group dedicated to promoting more transparency in the judicial branch, has called for ethics guidelines for the justices to abide by.
But as the public falls further down the rabbit hole of true crime, they’re turning to the Internet to get answers to their questions—and sometimes that means going above and beyond, to using FOIA and more, even changing the climate around the appeals process themselves. As they do, it’s possible they’ll want even more answers and access at their fingertips. When that day comes, courts may want to start getting ready for their closeups.