Congressmen Urge Supreme Court to Open Up

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By: Anne Gearan, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The Constitution says Congress and the judiciary have separate responsibilities, but the nation’s founders probably at least envisioned that the two branches of government could talk to one another.

When two Supreme Court justices visited Congress on Wednesday, the politicians and judges sometimes seemed to be speaking different languages.

A cordial hearing about the Supreme Court budget grew testy when lawmakers pointed to the vast amount of information they provide about Congress’ doings and said the nation’s highest court could and should do the same.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy protested that the court is making more information about cases available through its Web site, but Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., seemed unimpressed.

“I think the court is a little bit aloof,” he said.

Kennedy and Justice Clarence Thomas seemed taken aback, and hurriedly listed ways the court tries to tell the public what it is up to.

The court makes available a transcript of its oral arguments about a week after it hears oral arguments in a case, Kennedy noted.

Congress does that overnight, Wolf replied.

Some of the legal briefs for the court’s cases are available online, Kennedy said.

Not everyone has a computer, Wolf answered. He sends his constituents a letter detailing his votes.

Rep. Jose Serrano suggested that a little sunlight on the court’s operations is a good thing.

“I’m still trying to figure out what you all did in the 2000 election, picking a president,” the New York Democrat said with a smile.

Kennedy and Thomas were in the five-member majority that ended ballot recounts in Florida and effectively called the election for Republican George W. Bush.

At the time, the court released same-day audiotapes of the oral arguments in the presidential election cases — a first. Thomas tried to say so, but didn’t get very far.

Congress’ sessions are broadcast live.

“You shouldn’t really resist the idea of making your work more public,” Serrano said.

By design, the court is a somewhat secretive place. The justices meet behind closed doors to choose which cases they will hear, and then again to decide how a case comes out. The court never reveals how a case will be decided until the moment the ruling is released.

And while much of Congress’ activities are detailed in documents posted on the Internet, most of the court’s work is still done on paper — paper filings, paper legal briefs, paper rulings.

You should let more employees “telework” via computer, Wolf told the justices.

Well, he and Thomas often work from home, Kennedy replied.

Wolf pounced. The court’s other employees should have the same opportunity, he told the justices, then added, “Everyone watches what the boss does.”

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