On Wednesday, just two days after the first ever audio livestream  of a Supreme Court oral argument, came another, less historic moment: The first-ever audible  toilet flush was recorded live during a Supreme Court oral argument.
Many have long argued for more accessible and live oral arguments, and the move appears  to be working quite well. One awkward blunder is no detriment to that cause. In fact, the unknown flusher is, in a way, a hero. Demystifying the Supreme Court is a good thing and helps more people understand its vital importance.
In this same spirit, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have teamed up  to promote civics education. Justice Antonin Scalia set the bar high, using a pithy writing style that was intended to engage and persuade students. Gorsuch as well has embraced a simpler form of opinion writing that is easier for non-lawyers to read and understand. And while we do not know the flushing culprit, the moment of levity reminds us that the justices are human too, and not infallible, final arbiters of our republican form of government.
The momentary faux pas is also far from the first time an argument has garnered laughs. In recent years, there have been a number of funny moments during arguments. There is even a Twitter account  dedicated solely to counting the number of times laughter is found on Supreme Court transcripts. Yet, before now, these amusing moments were never live or widely available to the public. Until this week, audio of a joke or gaffe made on Wednesday was not released until Friday. The toilet flush blunder was live, which is a good thing.
Live Supreme Court arguments have brought a brand-new audience of interested onlookers who have never heard the highest court in action before. Indeed, beyond delayed transcripts and audio files, the courtroom is notoriously small, with few seats available for the public. Before now, those wanting to watch a live hearing were often forced to wait outside overnight for just the chance to grab a ticket inside.
With live hearings, more citizens can tune in. And when they do, they will like what they hear.
In the cases argued this week, just like weeks before, the justices were respectful to the advocates before them. The advocates used their time to advance their cause, not denounce their legal opponent. The tone was civil. The justices’ questions were designed to get straightforward answers, not rhetorical points. In short, this week’s arguments were something people do not normally see out of Washington but something very typical of the high court.
And in the end, an inadvertent toilet flush is a useful moment of fun. At a stressful time for many people, a silly laugh at the misfortune of an anonymous flusher during an otherwise sober event is all too welcome. While celebrities stream videos reading children’s bedtime stories and musicians perform online concerts, the phantom flusher, too, adds some normalcy and humor to a dark time.
Even better, once the Supreme Court again meets in person, many of the errors from this week, like dropped telephone calls, speaking while on mute, and even flushing toilets, will be gone. But fortunately, if live hearings continue, the transparency, respectful discourse, and civility will remain.
- “first ever audio livestream”: https://www.rstreet.org/2020/05/05/live-audio-of-oral-arguments-works-the-supreme-court-should-keep-it/
- “audible”: https://twitter.com/cspanJeremy/status/1258076164234579969
- “appears”: https://www.rstreet.org/2020/05/05/live-audio-of-oral-arguments-works-the-supreme-court-should-keep-it/
- “teamed up”: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/supreme-court-justices-sonia-sotomayor-and-neil-gorsuch-promote-civics-education/
- “Twitter account”: https://twitter.com/LOLSCOTUS