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Website of the Week: Oyez Features Audio Recordings of US Supreme Court

The U.S. Senate is likely to vote this week to confirm the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The Alito appointment came less than four months after John Roberts was sworn in as Chief Justice. But even when there are no new appointments to the nine-member panel, the high court is never out of the news for very long here. Our Website of the Week provides an up-close look at this key institution of our American government.

"Oyez.org is a multimedia database devoted to the United States Supreme Court," says Jerry Goldman, the Northwestern University professor behind Oyez.org. The name of the website comes from the traditional cry of the marshall of the court at the beginning of each day's proceedings — "oyez, oyez, oyez!" 

The Supreme Court is the top tribunal in the U.S. judicial system. Perhaps more so than high courts elsewhere, the U.S. Supreme Court is the ultimate authority, with the power to invalidate legislation as unconstitutional and, in 2000, to decide a disputed presidential election. To understand the way the American government works, you can't ignore the Supreme Court.

The court publishes its decisions, of course, and releases transcripts of its sessions, but broadcasts are prohibited. Since 1955, however, the court has made audio recordings, and many of those are now available at Oyez.org.

Each year, 5,000 or more cases are appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court will only accept fewer than 100. In almost all of them, lawyers will appear before the nine justices for oral arguments, a spirited question-and-answer session on the legal merits of their case.

"It's an engaging way to hear lawyers and justices argue about great principles, and sometimes very minor ones. In each of the cases, though, you can rest assured that something significant is at stake," stressed Prof. Goldman. "So it's an engaging experience."

The Oyez Project includes more than 2000 hours of audio recordings of Supreme Court proceedings, including all oral arguments that have been released since 1995. There's also a selective archive of earlier cases for listening or download.

In many cases, the transcript is displayed as the audio plays, which is a great help to English students.  "It provides a good exposure to spoken English in a real-life environment, not someone reading a text from a teleprompter or a piece of paper, but the actual give-and-take that comes from ordinary language discussion. And that I think is a valuable resource for those who want to learn the language," said Goldman.

In addition, Oyez.org has links to news about the court and its cases, and links to the text of Supreme Court decisions.

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