The Supreme Court is arguably the least transparent, least accountable institution in our government today. Its justices are appointed for life, its decisions are debated behind closed doors and its one minimally public exercise, oral argument, is limited to the 250 or so individuals who already are in or can travel to D.C. At a time when people are demanding more accountability from government officials, particularly from an increasingly powerful judiciary, this lack of transparency has become more troubling.
This event discussed why the justices continue to resist entreaties to embrace the transparency modern technology allows and operate away from cameras and streaming audio. The panel also discussed ways the court could modernize – from improving its online presence to being more transparent regarding justices’ finances, health, public events and periodic recusals.
Supreme Sunlight: Shining a Light on the High Court
Tony Mauro welcomes the panel.
Dahlia Lithwick of Slate kicks off the panel discussion.
Clay Johnson, co-founder of Blue State Digital
William Jay, former Supreme Court clerk
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Sonja West, former Supreme Court clerk and faculty at University of Georgia School of Law
Expert panel discusses transparency of the Supreme Court of the United States
Expert panel discusses transparency of the Supreme Court of the United States
This event was co-sponsored by The Coalition for Court Transparency which has marked the 50th anniversary of the momentous press freedom case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan by sending a letter directly to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to take another historic action on behalf of press freedom – allowing for video broadcast of hearings at the High Court.
Bruce D. Brown became executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in September 2012 and is of counsel in the Washington, DC office of BakerHostetler, where he had been a partner in the firm's media law practice.
He has argued press cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Prior to joining BakerHostetler, Brown was a federal court reporter for Legal Times and a newsroom assistant to David Broder at The Washington Post. Brown’s published work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The American Lawyer, The Economist, USA Today, Legal Times, Communications Lawyer, and The National Law Journal.
Brown co-directs the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in its master’s program in journalism. He is a member of the First Amendment Advisory Council of The Media Institute and a former co-chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Media Law Resource Center in New York.
Brown received a J.D. from Yale Law School, earned a master’s degree in English Literature from Harvard University, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities, and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Stanford University.
Brown and his wife, Amy B. Rifkind, an attorney specializing in commercial real estate at Arnold & Porter LLP, live in Washington, D.C., with their two children, Rebecca and Sam.
Willy Jay is a partner in the firm’s Litigation Department and a co-chair of its Appellate Litigation Practice. A former Assistant to the Solicitor General, Mr. Jay has extensive experience with litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Courts of Appeals. He has argued 11 cases before the Supreme Court, briefed more than 20 cases on the merits and briefed more than 150 cases at the certiorari stage. He also has significant experience with cases in the Court’s original jurisdiction.
Mr. Jay has handled cases in every federal court of appeals as well. He has personally briefed or argued more than 30 appellate cases, both in private practice and on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment, Criminal and Civil Divisions, and he has participated in numerous appellate matters involving government appeals or amicus participation.
Mr. Jay has particular experience in cases involving federal preemption of state law, environmental law, class action practice, and the First Amendment, including those involving campaign finance regulation, election law and constitutional challenges to public-corruption prosecutions.
In 2004, Johnson was the lead programmer for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. Along with three other Howard Dean staffers, Clay Johnson founded Blue State Digital, a company that provided technology services and online strategy for the 2008 Barack Obama Presidential Campaign. In 2006, Blue State Digital was one of Fast Company’s Fast 50. In August 2012, Clay was selected as a Presidential Innovation Fellow and is currently supporting a project called RFP-EZ. The basic goal of RFP-EZ is to make it easier for small IT services firms to bid on and win government contracts for IT services (like coding and web development).
Prior to his work with politicians, Johnson worked at AskJeeves, now Ask.com, as a technologist helping with web syndication. Along with John Petropoulos, Johnson invented the use of mouseover preview ability in search results. The patent was filed in 2001, and issued in 2006. In 2009, he was the Google-O’Reilly Open Source Community Builder of the Year, and in 2010, one of Federal Computer Week's Fed 100. He also worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence at a venture capital firm. From 2008-2010 he was Director of Sunlight Labs, a community of open source developers and designers dedicated making the U.S. Government more transparent, accountable and responsible. He was a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered on June 8, 2009.
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate, and in that capacity, writes the "Supreme Court Dispatches" and "Jurisprudence" columns. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The Washington Post and Commentary, among other places. She received the Online News Association’s award for online commentary in 2001 and again in 2005, for a series she co-authored on torture, and was the first online journalist invited to serve on the Steering Committee for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
She is the co-author of Me v. Everybody: Absurd Contracts for an Absurd World, a legal humor book, and I Will Sing Life: Voices from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a book about seven children from Paul Newman's camp with life-threatening illnesses. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her husband and two sons.
Eric Segall graduated from Emory University, Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude, and from Vanderbilt Law School where he was the Research Editor for the Law Review and member of Order of the Coif. He clerked for the Honorable Charles Moye, Jr., Chief Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, and Albert J. Henderson of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. After his clerkships, he worked for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and the United States Department of Justice, before joining the GSU faculty in 1991.
Professor Segall teaches federal courts and constitutional law I and II. He is the author of the new book Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court is not a Court and its Justices are not Judges. His articles on constitutional law have appeared in, among others, the Stanford Law Review, UCLA Law Review, the George Washington Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, the Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy, the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, the University of Pittsburgh Law Review, and the Florida Law Review, and he has been a frequent contributor to Constitutional Commentary. He has served on the Executive Committee of the AALS section on federal courts, and has given numerous speeches both inside and outside the academy on constitutional law questions and the Supreme Court.
Sonja R. West joined the University of Georgia School of Law in the fall of 2006. She specializes in constitutional law, media law and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prior to joining the Georgia Law faculty, West taught as the Hugo Black Faculty Fellow at the University of Alabama School of Law. She has also served as a judicial clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Her other professional experience includes several years as an associate attorney for the Los Angeles law firms Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Davis Wright Tremaine, where she represented media clients on a variety of First Amendment and intellectual property issues at the trial and appellate levels.
West's work has been published in numerous law reviews and journals including the UCLA Law Review, the Michigan Law Review and the Washington University Law Review. She also has a forthcoming piece soon to be published in the Harvard Law Review.
Having earned a B.A. in journalism and communication studies with honors and distinction from the University of Iowa, West worked as a reporter in Illinois, Iowa and Washington, D.C., before entering law school. She graduated with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as executive editor of The University of Chicago Law Review and was inducted into the Order of the Coif.