Federal Courts and Nominations

Updated SCOTUS Website Gets Mixed Reviews

By Tony Mauro

The U.S. Supreme Court’s much-anticipated website update launched late on July 28, making information about the court easier for the public to find on mobile devices as well as computers.

But, befitting an institution whose building is decorated with bronze and marble tortoises, the changes were baby steps. In announcing the improvements, the court said they pave the way, eventually, for a planned electronic filing system that will make Supreme Court briefs and documents available to all on the site.

In his annual report in late 2014, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said the electronic filing system “may be operational as soon as 2016” but that too has turned out to be a work in progress.

The new website has been panned and praised, with one Twitter critic opining, “#SCOTUS website looks somewhat different but not sure how much better … (doesn’t really look much better).”

Brianne Gorod, chief counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center, who tweeted last week that she was “very excited” to see the changes, said Monday, “It’s great to see some updates to the court’s website, but what I’ll be really excited about is when we see the new electronic filing system.”

At least one social media complaint about the site has already been corrected.

Over the weekend, most pages on the site showed text in blue against a scarlet background that made it difficult to read. “My eyes are bleeding, this is the worst thing ever,” proclaimed one viewer. Another called it a “bloodbath travesty.” But by Monday morning, the site reverted to black type on a white background.

Over the weekend, the site’s main page also mistakenly announced that cases set for argument in October had actually already taken place.

Some of the most helpful changes give the lay public more information about what is happening at the court on any given day, including case names and information about cases being argued. The site also gives quick information about visiting the court, including “etiquette” guidance such as “touching of portraits, bust, or other artifacts on exhibit is strictly prohibited.”

Gabe Roth, executive director of the advocacy group Fix the Court, said that in addition to the new website, the court needs to do much more to improve transparency. “The court said its website improvements would support ‘future digitization,’ but if that phrase appeared in a law, it would be struck down for being unconstitutionally vague,” Roth said Monday. “Does this future, in their view, include hosting live broadcast of oral arguments and opinion announcements, online financial disclosures and a justice-by-justice conflicts list? It should.”