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One Small Step Toward Transparency: SCOTUS to Post Briefs Online

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By William Peacock, Esq. on January 05, 2015 10:45 AM

It's not an uncommon opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court is a bit lacking when it comes to transparency. There are no cameras in the courtroom, opinions are changed without notice after being released, link rot plagues citations to online sources, and court watchers have to rely on third parties to access the briefs that, most of the time, are what makes up the justices' minds.

In other words, there is a lot of room for improvement.

In his end-of-the-year report, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that the Court will take one small step towards an ideal, transparent world: It will soon post all of those ever-important briefs online.

The Court Is a Tortoise

In a long, somewhat rambling narrative excusing the Court's reluctance to embrace technology and transparency as a byproduct of history and prudent caution about "the next big thing," Chief Justice Roberts discussed the federal courts' system-wide move to the next generation of CM/ECF (case management and electronic case filing) before slipping in some welcome news about the Supreme Court: It will have its own electronic filing system by 2016.

Not only will the system require parties to file an electronic copy alongside their paper copies, but the Court will publish all of the filings online for public consumption. Of course, if you're an ardent court watcher, you probably know that you can get those briefs from private third-party sites like the American Bar Association and SCOTUSblog, but it's nice to see the Court provide an official, authoritative source as well.

Room for Improvement

Like we said, it's a small step. What we, and most other people, would like to see is cameras in the Court. Critics from Congress and Fix the Court gave lukewarm approval to the move, but both would like to see more, reports The Washington Post.

"In his year-end report, Chief Justice Roberts rightly promotes how the courts have embraced new technology," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in a release. "Unfortunately, though, the courts have yet to embrace the one technology that the founders would likely have advocated for -- cameras in the courtroom."

Gabe Roth, the executive director of Fix the Court, said that the announcement was "the very least the court could do to become transparent."

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