Bringing Attention to the Supreme Court
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When the United States Supreme Court heard high-profile cases this past term—including the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act—Americans could hear every word exchanged between justices and lawyers during oral arguments thanks to audio recordings released by the Supreme Court. The exchanges gave both legal pundits and the public some initial clues as to how the justices viewed these big issues, with expert analysis of the recordings spurring predictions about how the high court might rule.
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor Jerry Goldman says Americans get a better sense of the Supreme Court and its decisions when hearing the Court in action, rather than reading just a transcript or news story.
"The more access the public has to our highest courts, the stronger our democracy can work," Goldman says.
This belief has driven Goldman to spend decades assembling the country's largest collection of audio of the U.S. Supreme Court. Dubbed the Oyez® Project, the archive is currently housed at Chicago-Kent and contains nearly 14,000 hours of recordings from more than 8,100 cases. Oyez means "listen!" in French, and the Marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court recites the words when the justices arrive in the courtroom.
Although Supreme Court recordings have been recorded since the 1950s, they were not initially meant for the public, and until the 1990s, most Americans never heard them. The Oyez Project was created to make the work of the Supreme Court accessible to everyone, be it through text, audio, or other media.
Not only can visitors download recordings from any Supreme Court case for free, they also have access to supporting documents and information that explain the context and history.
"In my judgment, there is more public awareness of the work of the Court, and my mission is to make sure the public understands it—not from a technical or legal perspective, but from a simple, plain-English perspective," Goldman says. "What is this case about? What are the facts? What happened to the individual who brought this case after the Court decided?"
Goldman brought the Oyez Project to Chicago-Kent in 2011 from Northwestern University, where he started the project 20 years ago when he saw the potential for technology to reshape access to information and data.
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