The Supreme Court Library

In 2005, on my first (and last) visit to the U.S. Supreme Court Library, with librarian Brian Stiglmeier’s help, I was able to browse their small collection of early transcripts and duplicate a few of them. I recently posted them here under Pre-1968 Transcripts.

Sadly, shortly after my visit in 2005, the Supreme Court Library closed for remodeling, and when it reopened, it was no longer open to the public. If you take a tour of the Supreme Court, they will permit you to peer into the library through a pane of glass, but even on a guided tour, the public isn’t permitted in the library. It has become an enclave for the exclusive use of employees, members of the Supreme Court Bar, and other “privileged” guests – not exactly the sort of openness one might hope for from our own Federal government.

Supreme Court Library

In recent years, the Supreme Court Library has posted all its transcripts from the 1968 Term onward, as well as historical copies of the Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States. They haven’t yet added any of the pre-1968 transcripts in their possession, but this is a welcome trend.

However, I suspect these digitization efforts are primarily an attempt to deflect any criticism of the Library’s “closed door” policy, because the more materials they can claim are available either on their website or at other public institutions, the more they probably think their restrictive policy is somehow defensible. In my humble opinion, it is not.

NOTE: According to the Supreme Court Historical Society website, “By special written arrangement with the Librarian of the Court, access to the Library is also available to visiting scholars in need of materials uniquely available in the Library’s collection.”

In other words, if you jump through a series of undefined hoops and can demonstrate that whatever you’re looking for is not available anywhere else, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be allowed to visit the library – or at least be permitted to wait at the door while someone else looks for you.

Written on March 2, 2019