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Supreme Court Stops Lawyers From Paying Line-Standers In Big Cases

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 Cristian Farias

On its first day back from summer break, the U.S. Supreme Court announced new measures to combat practices the public and the press have called into question.

The court said in a statement on Monday that it will no longer allow lawyers to rely on "line-standers" -- individuals who, for a fee, save attorneys a spot in line outside the building on days when the justices hear oral arguments in popular cases.

A number of  media reports have noted or criticized the practice in the past, especially notorious when the Supreme Court holds hearings in historic or hotly contested cases -- such as the Obamacare and same-sex marriage cases earlier this year. On those days, lines begin forming outside the court several days in advance.

When the justices heard arguments in cases dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 in 2013, seats were going for up to $6,000 apiece, calculated by the number of hours line-standers waited outside.

"Allowing line-standing companies and scalpers to sell seats in the Supreme Court is yet another instance of letting money dominate democracy," Michael Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard, told The New York Times at the time. "It's at odds with equal access and undermines the dignity of the court." 

Two lines form outside the court on days when justices hear oral arguments: one for the public and one for lawyers, who must be members of the Supreme Court bar to be allowed into a special area designated for them.

Both groups are allowed into the main Supreme Court chamber on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on demand and seat availability. But lawyers wishing to witness history on days the court hears high-profile cases have been known to pay people to stand in line for them. 

In Monday's statement, the Supreme Court's public information office did not offer an explanation for the new policy. It said only that Supreme Court bar members "who actually intend to attend argument are allowed in line."

It's unclear if the changes were developed in consultation with the justices or whether they were formulated in response to the press reports that brought attention to them. In response to a request for comment, the court's public information office told The Huffington Post in an email that the new policies "are initiatives of the court," but did not elaborate.

In other news, the court said it would begin flagging opinions and other orders of the court that are corrected or edited after their release, by noting when the revision took place and highlighting the specific change in the revised version.

The court will also begin storing Web pages and other online content cited in opinions in a separate section of its website -- in response to the problem of "linkrot," or Web content that gets pulled or somehow disappears from the Internet. The New York Times brought both of these issues to light in separate reports.

The Supreme Court would solve some of its transparency problems related to access to the court if it allowed cameras inside the courtroom. But the justices have consistently resisted calls to televise proceedings, arguing that the public may misapprehend or trivialize its work.

The court posts audio of its weekly oral arguments every Friday on its website. But advocates for more transparency have argued that's not enough and say the court should make the audio available live, as the arguments happen, or at the very least on the same day.

Curiously, as the court announced the new policies on Monday, a law professor discovered that the court inadvertently made audio available of its very first oral argument of the new term -- a quirky case dealing with the reach of federal courts for accidents that arise abroad. The court quickly realized its mistake and deleted the audio.

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