Why You Should Start Listening to the Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments

There’s a reason people often avoid talking about politics: it gets real ugly real quick.

Have you ever been on social media and stumbled across a colossal comment chain featuring a heated political debate? Maybe you’re the kind of person who enthusiastically joins in to offer your two cents, or maybe you’re the kind who reads through all 50 comments just to listen to strangers argue. Whatever your vantage point, you’ll likely stumble across some name-calling, some condescension, and other displays of aggression.

So how do we start having more productive, informed conversations? I believe one way is to start listening to educated individuals discuss relevant political and social issues. And who better to learn from than eloquent lawyers and a panel of qualified, erudite justices? It’s time to start paying more attention to our very own Supreme Court.

The Perks of Tuning In

Abortion. Immigration. Native American rights. These are the types of issues the Supreme Court decides on for our country. Each monumental decision sets a precedent for future cases and impacts how the law will affect future generations. This means that Supreme Court cases can largely affect your life and the lives of those around you.

And if one good thing has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s this: the Supreme Court has started livestreaming the audio of their oral arguments for the first time.

Unless you’re an Elle Woods type, this might not sound interesting at first. But reader, you can really benefit from listening to these oral arguments. Back in the day, the only way to listen live was to actually be there in-person. You had to be in Washington, D.C. and sit physically in the courtroom — pretty inaccessible, right? Before the internet, the only other way to hear these arguments was to find a library with transcripts of the hearings. Thankfully, the internet now allows us to read all about individual Supreme Court cases and listen to archived oral arguments online.

So why tune in? First off, it’s a great way to hear level-headed, intelligent debates and reasoning. You’ll be listening to attorneys argue a case they’ve thoroughly researched for years, and you’ll hear the written opinions of the nine Supreme Court justices. That’s a lot of brainpower. This is a great opportunity to hear thoughtful political debates (sans name-calling) from people who have dedicated themselves to studying the law. It’s also a great chance to learn logical ways to defend your own position on an issue and better formulate your arguments. And it might even lead you to consider other perspectives on an issue.

Listening to these hearings can also help you learn more about the law itself. The law can be interpreted in many different ways, with some justices (like the recently appointed Amy Coney Barrett) being originalists who interpret the Constitution as they believe the Founding Fathers would. Meanwhile, other justices like Stephen G. Breyer view the Constitution as living and flexible. Hearing various interpretations of the law gives you a chance to broaden your perspective and consider how and where the law falls short. In an ever-changing world, current legislation may fail to address future issues. As a citizen, you can push for our legislature to remedy these potential problems by petitioning and reaching out to your local congressperson.

How to Listen to the Oral Arguments

To listen to past oral arguments, you have a few options. Of course, you can use the archives on the Supreme Court website. Similarly, the network C-SPAN has an archive of past oral arguments. But Oyez is by far the coolest option.

Oyez is a more modern site with bite-size information about Supreme Court cases. Their archive contains oral argument audios for past cases, which you’ll find in the media section of each case. These audios open in a separate window and display a transcript of the audio. This window also shows pictures of the justices, which light up in correspondence with the speakers as the audio plays. These features are pretty neat and make the experience more engaging.

The live oral arguments are more difficult to access. I have yet to locate a page on the Supreme Court website that plainly lists the place(s) to livestream upcoming oral arguments. But after some digging, I believe I can now simplify the listening process for you.

C-SPAN broadcasts the Supreme Court oral arguments online and their calendar clearly displays upcoming cases organized by date. When you click on a case, you’ll be redirected to another page (such as this one) with a short description of that case. The top of this page will display a blue banner with the time, date, and place to stream the audio. Unfortunately, this banner doesn’t appear until a few days before the livestream. Close to the air date, you’ll need to return to the case page to find the exact time to listen to the hearing, or you can check the Supreme Court calendar (Pro tip: oral arguments usually start at 10 a.m. EST). On the day of the argument, a yellow box with the word “LIVE” will appear beside the case on the calendar. Click on that box to (finally!) view the livestream.

I know that was a lot, but it’ll make more sense when you try it out yourself. If the livestreaming process sounds intimidating, you can always start with the archive.

Beyond Social Media

In addition to getting your political information from biased news sites and social media, why not listen to the Supreme Court? You’ll hear balanced arguments from intelligent people with varying opinions. Besides, don’t you want to learn more about the beliefs of the people who are making such important decisions for our country?

What To Do Next:

  • Check out the Supreme Court website to learn more about this institution
  • Listen to an oral argument (live or archived) and share what you learned with someone
  • Read about C-SPAN’s mission to make Supreme Court hearings more accessible to the public

Maya Santos, Content Creator

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