America’s typical amusements—March Madness, the NBA playoffs, Major League Baseball Opening Day, the U.S. Open, the Masters—have suddenly disappeared. Just in time, though, a new Big League debuts tomorrow, offering a welcome spectacle of bare-knuckle combat, vicious competition, taunts, and trash talk.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will return on May 9. Until then, the United States Supreme Court is the only show in town.
Starting Monday, the Court will at long last air the audio of oral arguments live. For the first time ever, the public will be able to experience oral argument as it happens. This was formerly the sole prerogative of justices, lawyers, reporters, and the few citizens who are able to gain tickets by waiting for hours (or days).
The format will be rather staid, whether one is watching on C-SPAN or listening via the radio or the internet. I have always thought a Court broadcast should be a cross between TV coverage of Wimbledon and the World Series of Poker—hushed, aristocratic-sounding announcers whispering comments on strategy while an Upshot-like needle moves back and forth, changing the predicted outcome with each question and answer.
How will the Justices take turns asking questions? In order of seniority:
For the forthcoming broadcast arguments, however, the rules will be different. In a press release Tuesday, the Court announced that the two-minute allowance will remain in effect. However, afterward, the justices will question by turns: “The Chief Justice will have the opportunity to ask questions. When his initial questioning is complete, the Associate Justices will then have the opportunity to ask questions in turn in order of seniority.”
I am not sure that this will work as well as hoped; some of the justices strike me as willing to ask questions for the full 30 minutes of argument, leaving no time for anyone else. Whether Roberts will intervene in such an instance remains to be seen.