Supreme Court Will Release Same-Day Audio Of Health Care Arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will make available same-day audio of upcoming oral arguments later this month, arguments that could determine the fate of the Obama health care overhaul.

In a three-paragraph announcement, the court said it is making the same-day audio available because of the “extraordinary public interest” in the health care cases. The legal challenges to the law are to be argued for six hours over a three-day period at the end of March.

Ordinarily, the audio would not be available until the end of the argument week. Chief Justice John Roberts began the Friday postings online in 2010 in an effort to make audio regularly available.

Prior to that, audio was only rarely, if ever available. Although the court began recording its public sessions in 1955, it did not make the recordings available to the general public until 1993. Even then, no audio was released until the end of each Supreme Court term, as much as a year after it took place.

The first time audio was made available on a same-day basis was for the arguments in Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the presidential election in 2000. After that, same-day audio was made available only episodically and rarely, when the Court acceded to media requests.

Chief Justice John Roberts sought to regularize the availability of audio by making it available each week online on Friday afternoons. That meant that the public could easily listen in a relatively timely fashion. The media could broadcast the audio if it wished, but delaying the availability by a few days also dealt with the objections of some justices that their words would be used out of context in quick news reports on the day of argument.

As the health care arguments grew near, however, the drumbeat for same-day access grew louder, and the court faced the prospect of people lining up around the building for days in advance, and sleeping there overnight, waiting to get one of the 400 seats in the courtroom.

That may happen anyway, but the size of the crowds now will likely be diminished.

The audio will be posted on the court’s website after the arguments are completed each day, probably no later than 2 p.m. on the first two days, and no later than 4 p.m. on the third day.

The third day of argument deals with two separate issues and is the only day when there is an afternoon session.

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