The Marble Palace Blog: At the Supreme Court of Canada, there are no leaks

Picture this: reporters covering the Supreme Court are ushered into a room. They learn about a Supreme Court decision before it is made public. A designated Executive Legal Officer briefs journalists on the case and its outcome.

But no one takes the plunge by disclosing the content of the decision. Why? Because journalists are in a “closed door,” temporarily giving up their cell phones so they can’t contact their newsrooms. Later in the day, the decision is made public and journalists tell their stories.

The Supreme Court I am talking about is the Supreme Court of Canada. The judges of this court are committed to ensuring openness and access for journalists, believing that the news media is the most important channel between the court and the public. “Freedom of the press to report on court proceedings is a fundamental value,” the court said.

In light of the explosive leak of the US Supreme Court’s draft abortion opinion last week, I contacted the Canadian High Court and asked if they had had any issues with the leaks, in particularly with the lockdown arrangement which gives reporters some insight. Renée Maria Tremblay, the associate executive legal adviser, replied: “I confirm that to our knowledge, no such leak has occurred at the Supreme Court of Canada.”

David Schneiderman, a law professor at the University of Toronto, said a leak of a draft opinion would be unlikely at the Supreme Court of Canada because “the court, its clerks and the legal community are not divided as in the United States” Schneiderman, co-author of a book on media coverage of the Supreme Court of Canada, added that the closed session is “a much better way to inform the press and the public of what is happening. We won’t have reporters leafing through a decision on live television on the steps of the courthouse, as I remember it happened in Bush versus Gore.”

In the whirlwind of the Alito leak controversy, I turned to Canada primarily because of a new law journal article titled “The Supreme Court and the People: Communicating Decisions to the Public,” written by Loyola University Chicago Law School Professor Barry Sullivan and Law School JSD Candidate Ramon Feldbrin University of Chicago.

The thrust of the article is that to varying degrees along with other countries such as Canada, Germany and Israel, the United States Supreme Court has done a mixed job of making its proceedings and decisions understandable and accessible to the public and the press. Alito’s escape is unlikely to improve the situation in the future.

“Over the years, court decisions have become more complex, lengthy and fractured, making it difficult and time-consuming for anyone outside of professional elites to determine what the court has taken up,” the authors said in the article. . “As a result, the Court’s interpretations of the Constitution remain shrouded in mystery and beyond the knowledge of many,” including journalists.

Sullivan said the trend has been exacerbated by the growth of the so-called shadow case, in which Supreme Court decisions are handed down with little, if any, explanation of the reasoning behind their decisions.

In an interview, Sullivan said that when he circulated his article to others, he was rebuffed by Canada’s closed-door process because it seemed so obvious that in the U.S. Supreme Court , a similar confinement would “simply lead to leaks.” And when it comes to helping reporters do their job, Sullivan finds judges distant and indifferent.

Contrary to Canada’s commitment to public access, in the U.S. Supreme Court, “secrecy is part of the job,” as recently Associated Press Article Put the. For example, unlike presidents who make their health status public every year, most judges keep their health status private.

After Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in 2016 and his health issues were publicized, I asked all current judges about their own health. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. responded that the court will provide health information “when a need to inform the public arises.”