Courts

Fix the Court: No Word on Same-Day Audio Request

Advocacy group seeks access to oral argument in church/state separation case 4/12/2017 12:05 PM Eastern
The U.S. Supreme Court

Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, told Multichannel News that as of Wednesday (April 12) he had yet to hear back from the Supreme Court on his request that it release same-day audio of oral argument in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.

The case, which is being argued April 19, deals with the separation of church and state and whether churches can be excluded from an otherwise secular aid program. It will be one of the first big cases heard by the full court, including just-seated Trump-appointed Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, who famously ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that a closely held for-profit company, under the law, could practice religion and thus refuse to comply with government mandates that violate its religious beliefs. Specifically, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. the Court's majority directly struck down the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate requiring employers' health care plans to cover certain contraceptives for female employees.

"In the past, the Court has released same-day audio for cases with heightened public interest," Roth Wrote to Chief Justice John Roberts April 7. "This case, granted certiorari nearly 15 months ago and comprising both Free Exercise and Establishment Clause concerns, certainly meets that bar."

Fix the Court advocates for more transparency in federal courts, including pushing for real-time video and audio access to oral argument, and absent that, for same-day audio.

Currently the Supreme Court does not allow real-time audio or video of oral arguments, but as Roth pointed out has released same-day and delayed audio of important cases.

Separately, Roth praised Hill Democrats for introducing a bill (for the fourth time in six years, he noted), appropriately named the Supreme Court Ethics Act, that would require Supreme Court Justices to adopt a code of professional ethics.

That would provide some uniformity around recusals, for one thing. Currently, the Justices are the independent arbiters of what entangling alliances -- e.g., past work on cases, stock in a related company -- prompt their recusals from participating in decisions.

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