COMMENTARY ON LAWYERING, LANGUAGE, AND POLITICS
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Oyez - Supreme Court Archive May Shut Down // National Law Journal
The Oyez Project - a Supreme Court Archive which features oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court - is a civics resource relied on by many teachers - including me. Political scientist Jerry Goldman was inspired by my grad school classmate, lawyer/historian Peter Irons. The star protege of left wing historian Howard Zinn, Irons, a draft resister as a young man, secretly copied the tapes, infuriating Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Irons' edited Supreme Court transcripts and audio were published as the popular May It Please the Court, used in many classrooms, and a popular gift for lawyer moms and dads, and law student children.
One would hope that Google or the like would want to fund the project in the future. - gwc
Its Creator Retiring, Oyez Project Faces Uncertain Future
by Tony Mauro //National Law Journal
February 1, 2016
The Oyez Project, a widely used resource for the audio of U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments and other information about the court, is facing an uncertain future.
Launched in 1993, the site boasts nearly 9 million visits a years, ranging from high school students to Supreme Court practitioners prepping for appearances at the lectern.
With founder Jerry Goldman planning to retire in May, and its arrangement with Chicago-Kent College of Law set to expire, Goldman said he worries the site may wither away or shut down later this year.
“The human side of the institution, the sense of the men and women who sit on the bench—their voices would be silenced,” said Goldman, 70.
The site houses the audio from nearly every high court case argued since the court began taping arguments in October 1955—a handful have been lost or the sound quality was terrible—as well as transcripts that are searchable and synchronized with the audio. The audio is supplied by the National Archives, where the court lodges the tapes after the end of each term.
Goldman is looking for nonprofit institutions or a consortium of organizations and universities to keep the site running, at an annual cost of about $300,000. He also said he sees opportunities for expansion, to provide the public with audio and information about state supreme courts and federal appeals courts.
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 you want to find the time that Justice Scalia used the word broccoli, you can do that in a few seconds,” Goldman said. (In March 2012, Scalia compared the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act to a government order for consumers to buy broccoli.)
Harold Krent, dean of Chicago-Kent, which hosted Oyez for the past five years, called the site a “unique resource” that “humanizes the Supreme Court.”
Deferring to Goldman about the future of the site, Krent said he hopes his school can remain involved in helping to keep Oyez alive.
One problem, Krent said—and Goldman agreed—is the difficulty of placing a monetary value on the site. They both believe Oyez should be freely available to the public, without a pay wall or advertising. The high court itself has posted oral argument audio going back to 2010, with transcripts on a separate page going back to 2000.
Goldman, who taught political science at Northwestern University before moving with Oyez to Chicago-Kent in 2011, got the idea for posting Supreme Court audio from the controversy over another political scientist, Peter Irons. Irons used Supreme Court audio obtained from the National Archives for a book. Chief Justice William Rehnquist threatened to sue Irons, but eventually backed off, allowing wide use of the tapes.
Goldman said the audio project opened up a new world for Supreme Court scholars and aficionados. Some of the tapes contained quiet chatter among justices who did not turn off their microphones. On other tapes, the sounds of angry protesters can be heard.