Updated at 4:30 p.m.
The Supreme Court just announced that it will provide same-day release of the audio of the historic oral arguments in the cases challenging the Affordable Care Act beginning March 26.
Citing the "extraordinary public interest in those cases," the Court's announcement said that both the audio and an unofficial transcript of the arguments would be posted on the Court's Web site as soon as possible after they occur on each of the three days of argument. That represents no change when it comes to the transcripts, which already are posted on the same day of the argument. But it does mean a new policy for the health care cases when it comes to the audiotapes.
Under current policy, the audio of arguments is released by the Court on the Friday after they take place -- a timetable that makes the tapes of little use for news media. Same-day release used to be allowed in select cases, beginning with Bush v. Gore in 2000, but it was pushed back to Fridays last term.
Today's release is silent on the subject of television coverage of the health care cases, but it is safe to infer that the Court is rejecting that request, made by several news media organizations after the Court announced it would review the health care law last November.
In his letter to the Court last November, C-SPAN chairman and CEO Brian Lamb said the health care cases "will affect every American's life, our economy, and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign." He also said that because of the six-hour length of the arguments, "interested citizens would be understandably challenged to adequately follow audio-only coverage."
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also asked the Court for video access to the proceedings, but as a fallback position asked for same-day release of the audio of the hearings.
Update: Responding to the Court's statement, C-SPAN has announced it will broadcast the audio of the health care arguments, as soon as they are available, on C-SPAN 3, C-SPAN Radio, C-SPAN.org.
C-SPAN also issued the following statement about the Court's action: "We appreciate that the Supreme Court has taken steps to expedite the release of audio recordings of the oral arguments in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act cases on March 26, 27, and 28. C-SPAN will provide same-day airing of these arguments on C-SPAN3, C-SPAN Radio and C-SPAN.org as soon as they are released. At the same time, we are disappointed that the Court has rejected C-SPAN’s request for TV camera coverage of the oral arguments in this landmark case. We continue to believe allowing video coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments is in the public’s best interest."
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), also made a statement about the Court's decision today:
"I welcome today's announcement from the Supreme Court that they will make available the audio files and transcripts of this month’s arguments regarding the Affordable Care Act. With heightened public interest in this landmark law, I am especially pleased that they will make the audio of the arguments available to the public within hours of the completion of each day's arguments. This is a step forward, and one that I welcome during Sunshine Week. The Chief Justice and the Court are right to expand public access to their public proceedings. Nonetheless, I continue to support live audio streaming and permitting cameras in our nation’s courtrooms, including in the Supreme Court, so that Americans can witness these public proceedings as they happen."