Attorney Casey Mattox was among hundreds of spectators who went to the Supreme Court this week to watch the judges grill attorneys about the Obama administration's health care law.
Unlike others in the audience, Mattox attempted to do more than just observe. He tried to document the argument as it happened by posting updates on Twitter. Mattox succeeded, but only briefly.
The court has all sorts of bans on electronic devices, cameras, and the like. Typically, those prohibitions make it impossible to send out updates on Twitter. Mattox, however, came up with a workaround. The lawyer, who is part of the conservative group Alliance Defense Fund, watched from an overflow room for attorneys, and then left and sent emails to another staffer at the group, Reuters reports. That person then sent out tweets to the group's 4,000-plus followers on Twitter. One read, "Seems to be broad skepticism again today that this is a tax. #ObamaCare #SCOTUS."
Court personnel got wind of the project, however, and shut it down soon after it started.
The Supreme Court's ban on tweets (and other real-time news) stands in stark contrast to recent moves by state court judges, who increasingly allow legal proceedings to be broadcast, blogged and tweeted as they occur. In Massachusetts, for instance, the highest state court gave the green light to the "Open Court" project -- an initiative of Boston's National Public Radio station. The project Webcasts proceedings live from Quincy District Court. The Massachusetts ruled two weeks ago that restrictions on the streams would violate free speech principles.
That decision makes far more sense than attempting to prohibit contemporaneous updates. After all, courts are supposed to be open to the public. In the age of the Internet, there's no reason to limit that access to the limited number of people who can make it to a courthouse in person.