Hey Rehnquist! Use the Web

Why won’t the Supreme Court allow TV cameras to cover its proceedings? The consensus view, voiced most recently by University of Chicago law professor Dennis J. Hutchinson, is that the Supremes just don’t want to be recognized on the street. (As if gaggles of teen-age girls would break into Suprememania every time they spotted Antonin Scalia buying a Slurpee.) The court’s decision to expedite the release of an audiotape of Friday’s oral arguments lends credence to the Privacy Theory. After all, the only difference between audio and video is the pictures.

But we political junkies don’t want to hear the Supremes’ voices after the fact. We want to know what’s going on as it happens.

Luckily, there’s a cheap solution that will both preserve the justices’ relative anonymity and slake the thirst of news junkies: Voice-recognition software could stream the text of oral arguments over the Web. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows calls Dragon Systems’ software program NaturallySpeaking “the first plausible dictation technology.” If that’s the case, let’s commission some programmers to assemble a quick and dirty text streamer based on the stock tickers used by many different sites and post the output on the Supremes’ Web site.

And if the Supremes want to make this a one-time-only solution, fine. Chatterbox will collect schoolchildren’s pennies to pay for the $199 program and will provide the programmers with all the Jolt cola and Snickers bars they need to hit the Friday deadline. The federal government won’t have to spend one red cent, news junkies get to follow the Supreme Court proceedings live, and David Souter can go shopping without having to wear sunglasses and a headscarf.

[Addendum: A reader points out that Chatterbox, in his excitement, overlooked the fact that NaturallySpeaking users must read sections of prepared text to the program before using it. This means the program probably can’t handle multiple speakers at once, which complicates Chatterbox’s simple solution. But don’t blame Chatterbox! Blame the folks at Dragon!]

[Addendum, 12/1/00: Chatterbox is vindicated!, a site that Chatterbox wrote about previously, used voice-recognition technology and the Supremes’ audiotape to stream a transcript of Friday’s oral arguments over the Internet. Jim McCarthy,’s director of sales and marketing, says the site will be partnering with Dragon Systems to do the same thing with Congress. They’re even planning on using the technology in the federal judiciary. Get on the ball, Rehnquist!]