源 稿 窗
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court's historic livestreaming of its first-ever oral argument by telephone went without a hitch on Monday, spurring new calls for the high court to keep up the practice for the public's benefit.
The session ran well past its allotted time of 60 minutes, but Chief Justice John Roberts ran a tight ship.
All nine justices, including the court's famously laconic justice, Clarence Thomas, phoned in from home to ask questions.
Lawyers for the government and Booking.com engaged in a robust back-and-forth with the justices as tens of thousands of people seized the unprecedented opportunity to listen in.
The case - a legal dispute over whether the online reservation service can register its name as a trademark - is the first of 10 that will be argued by telephone and livestreamed this month as the justices - five of them 65 and older - shelter from the coronavirus.
The justices had long resisted calls to livestream oral arguments - the only public part of their deliberations - and it wasn't clear how Monday's proceeding would unfold in light of the high court's inexperience with live broadcasting technology.
Now, the apparent success of the first-ever livestream is being hailed as a victory for court openness and increasing calls for the court to continue it even after the pandemic ends.
This comes as high courts in other democracies - from Britain to Canada - and lower courts around the United States have increasingly embraced broadcasting technology to open their proceedings to the public via livestream and in many cases video conferencing.
"Congratulations SCOTUS on broadcasting the audio of oral arguments live today," Justice Beth Walker of the West Virginia Supreme Court tweeted. "The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has been doing it since the late 1980s."
Steve Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin said the session was "pretty darn typical."
"It's not a circus - which is why live streaming shouldn't be controversial," Vladeck tweeted during the argument.
The telephonic argument began with the traditional call of "Oyez, oyez, oyez" by the court marshal before Chief Roberts called the case. An assistant solicitor general presented the government's case and fielded questions during the first 30 minutes or so, while Lisa Blatt, a partner at the law firm of Williams & Connolly, argued on behalf of Booking.com during the second half of the session.
There were a few minor glitches. One justice couldn't be heard for several seconds. Another was briefly on mute. Twice Roberts had to remind a lawyer - who was apparently also on mute - that it was her turn to speak.
Things otherwise moved briskly and in an orderly fashion.
"This was the most ordered presentation of oral arguments ever seen," said Adam Feldman, a long-time court watcher who teaches political science at California State University and runs a blog about the Supreme Court.
Thomas, who had asked all of two questions over the past 14 years, posed four on Monday, leading other justices to piggyback off his queries to ask follow-up questions of their own.
Missing from the telephone session were visual cues lawyers take from justices as they make their arguments in the courtroom. One such moment, shorn of visuals, came when Blatt, a veteran Supreme Court litigator, told associate justice Neil Gorsuch, the court's second most junior member, that "you've not obviously read our expert" - to which Gorsuch retorted "That is not fair. Come on!"
Prior to Monday, only a few dozen people could watch a Supreme Court argument live. The court has about 50 seats for members of the public and, depending on the profile of a case, people have waited up to five days outside the courtroom to secure a spot. However, despite minimal public interest in the Booking.com case itself, tens of thousands of people listened in, according to Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, an advocacy organization.
As the argument was being livestreamed, many people reacted in real-time on social media, something court watchers and pundits fear U.S. President Donald Trump will be doing when three cases involving his financial records are heard next week.
"Super cool to be able to listen live to the Supreme Court of the United States for the first time ever!" one person tweeted.