Changes to justices' opinions will be highlighted
Oct. 06, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is taking a step to address criticism that its inner workings are opaque.
The court announced Monday that its website will identify and highlight changes to opinions after they are released to the public.
Changes will be highlighted in the text of the opinion and both the old and new material will be shown when readers place their cursor over the highlighted section.
The issue gained wide attention when the court quietly posted a change to a vociferous dissent written by Justice Antonin Scalia in an environmental case. Scalia took the unusual step of reading a summary of the dissent aloud in the courtroom. But the opinion contained a glaring error of fact — misreporting an earlier case in which Scalia himself wrote the majority opinion.
Scholars pointed out the error and, by the next day, the opinion had been corrected, with no acknowledgment of any change.
Other justices have made mistakes in their opinions, and those too have been changed.
A few months after Scalia read his dissent in court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg corrected her dissent from an order allowing Texas' voter identification law to be used in last year's elections. Ginsburg acknowledged the error in a statement issued by the court.
Also Monday, the court announced that it will prohibit lawyers who are members of the Supreme Court bar from hiring "line standers" to hold their place for seats to big arguments. The practice is common for congressional hearings, and has become more so in recent years for high-profile high court cases, including those involving gay marriage and the Obama health care overhaul.
Lawyers who are part of the Supreme Court bar have access to a reserved section toward the front of the courtroom, and their odds of getting in are better than those for the general public.
But now they will have to wait in line themselves if they want seats in the special section.
The court did not announce similar restrictions for the general seating line.
Highlighting justices' errors is the latest change aimed at making the court more transparent. But does that mean cameras soon will be allowed in the courtroom? Don't hold your breath for that one.
Eventually, was the most Justice Stephen Breyer would commit to. And some justices, including Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, are resolutely opposed.
So the next best thing might be the lineup of dogs dressed as justices that comedian John Oliver came up with last year on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight." Oliver suggested pairing the video his staff produced with actual audio recordings that are released by the court.
The justices have, shall we say, sat up and taken notice.
And important disagreements aside, they all agree with the dog-loving Alito, who boasted in Kentucky last month about the Portuguese water dog that represents him. "I got the best dog," he said.
Speaking last week at Ohio State University, Justice Elena Kagan said she wasn't sure why Oliver chose a bull terrier to portray her. But she said the entire court agrees that Alito's is the top dog.
"I think we all wanted to be Justice Alito's dog," Kagan said.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.