National Archives Add U.S. Supreme Court Hearing Recordings

Published: 1 February 2024

NEW RESOURCE: National Archives Add U.S. Supreme Court Hearing Recordings

Author: Dr. Michael H. Hoeflich

This article is featured in Volume 5, Number 1 of the Legal Ethics and Malpractice Reporter.

Although the LEMR is primarily focused on issues in legal ethics and malpractice, occasionally I come across something so interesting that I feel it is worthwhile to share it with readers. Thus, this column.

The National Archives are the repository of American history, including law. They hold the founding documents of our nation as and perform other vital functions such as handling classified documents, as has been critical to the ongoing case against former President Trump. The main archives facility is in Washington, D.C., with regional centers around the country including Kansas City.

As the official repository of many American documents, the National Archives works diligently to make their holdings accessible to the public. They have a website and continue to digitize documents and put them online. Recently, the Archives announced the addition of the actual recordings of U.S. Supreme Court hearings to its website. While the textual documents have been available for some time, the actual voices of the Justices and the lawyers have not been easily available.

The notice from the Archives reads, in part:

The Moving Image and Sound Branch of the National Archives doesn’t just hold motion pictures. It’s also home to over 300,000 sound recordings. Recently, the Motion Picture Branch made digitized sound recordings of the Supreme Court available in the Catalog.

The Supreme Court began recording its proceedings in 1955, but the court’s opinions were not recorded until the 1980’s. The recordings are organized chronologically. Since cases are often argued over multiple days, cases can be split up between different recordings.

The announcement highlights some of the cases for which audio is now available:

  • Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 required states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The recordings are divided into three parts: question onequestion two, and the opinion.

  • Engel v. Vitale in 1962 decided that school-initiated prayer in public schools violated the First Amendment.

  • Gideon v. Wainwright from 1963 declared that indigent defendants must be provided legal representation without charge.

  • Perhaps the best-known Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, was argued over two dates: December 1971 and October 1972. The court declared abortion to be a constitutional right.

  • Loving et ux. v. Virginia struck down state laws that banned interracial marriage in 1967.

For readers of a certain age, like me, it is quite something to listen to the recording of the arguments in Time, Inc. v. Hill, where one can hear Richard M. Nixon arguing before the court. There is something quite special about hearing the arguments rather than simply reading the transcripts.

The Supreme Court recordings are available online at:


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