U.S. Supreme Court Transcripts: 1955-1967
Beginning with October Term 1955, the Court began recording all oral arguments on reel-to-reel tape. However, it did not adopt a policy of producing transcripts of all arguments until October Term 1968. Between 1955 and 1968, the Court produced official transcripts only in exceptional cases; for example, Time v. Hill.
However, thanks to the existence of the audio tapes, which the Court regularly sent to the National Archives, third parties such as University Publications of America (UPA) were able to recreate transcripts from the recordings. UPA, for example, transcribed roughly 1/3 of the cases argued during the Warren Court. So when you come across a transcript from that era, it’s likely “unofficial” – especially if it ends with the following notation:
[Due to an imperfect taping system and aging tapes, some passages are inaudible.]
Having a stenographer in the room to produce an official transcript would have been preferable, because they would have been able to hear what the microphones failed to capture. And the problem wasn’t necessarily with the microphones; the most common problem was Justices simply forgetting to turn their microphones on.
Fortunately, The Oyez Project did a much better job than UPA of producing unofficial transcripts from the audio recordings, and they did so for all cases, not just the 1/3 or so deemed worthwhile by UPA.
However, it’s still a worthwhile exercise to catalog and archive as many “official” transcripts produced by the Court during this period as possible, in part for their historical interest, but also because they would likely shed some light on portions on the arguments that are inaudible on tape.
See our post on The Supreme Court Library for further discussion.