Supreme Court Sheds Some Light on Itself

We have previously discussed the importance of our courts being transparent and the related impact on the public’s confidence in our justice system. One of the less enthusiastic proponents, the U.S. Supreme Court, recently began turning the tide, albeit slightly, with a new set of policies designed to provide the public with more and better information about the Court’s work.

The resulting media coverage largely has focused on the Court’s decision to abolish “line-standing,” or allowing members of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the U.S. to pay individuals to stand in line on their behalf so they can claim reserved seating for Court arguments. While this change is a good one, two other new policies enacted by the Supreme Court should prove to be more beneficial to the public and the perception of the Court itself.

In what is likely a response to a 2013 article published in the Yale Journal of Law, the Supreme Court says it will begin posting archived copies of web pages that are cited in its opinions. The law review article revealed that many Supreme Court opinions issued during a 14-year period ending in 2010 included inactive – or “dead” – links. The new policy not only makes sure that the appropriate record will be preserved for future cases, but it also shows that the court is working to protect the public record.

The other notable shift announced by the Supreme Court will, for the first time, allow the public to see what changes are made to already-published opinions. The Court’s practice of making ostensibly minor (but sometimes significant) changes to published opinions without notifying the public was revealed in another article published last year by a Harvard Law School professor. As part of this new policy, the Court has set up a “Sample Opinions” page that shows how such amended opinions will be displayed on the Court’s website.

While these changes fall far short of actually allowing cameras into the courtroom – something our own Texas Supreme Court has done enthusiastically and successfully --  they do represent a step forward.  Let’s hope there’s more to come.   


Posted: 10/12/2015 9:04:04 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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