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Judicial transparency : communication, democracy and the United States federal judiciary


Government transparency is understood to be a bedrock principle of American democracy, yet the judiciary branch is often exempted from this ideal. Secrecy exists in all branches of government, but in the judiciary it's often viewed as essential for proper ethics rather than as a threat to them. The judiciary has some important transparency traditions such as published opinions and open trials. However, the judiciary has held back from many modern transparency practices. This dissertation explores how the federal judiciary has been partially exempted from the modern expectation of transparency. The current understanding is that more information is always better for democracy, but the ambivalent relationship between this formulation and the judiciary suggests the story is more complicated. Katrina Hoch addresses this puzzle by looking at the history of government transparency, both as a concept and as a set of policies and practices, and by analyzing three judicial realms: Supreme Court confirmation battles, the debate over cameras in the courtroom, and the Supreme Court Justices' public image. This research includes hearing transcripts, case law, legislation, news reports, historical records from the American Bar Association and the Judicial Conference, field visits to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court press office, popular books about the Court, entertainment media and secondary sources. While government transparency and the federal judiciary were always structured around different principles, contemporary transparency practices have sharpened the tension between them. New developments in journalism, media economics, technology, political culture and political institutions have reshaped the meaning and practice of transparency, and the resulting new forms include the "personalization of politics" and the "performance of transparency." The judiciary has been resistant to these changes because courts operate differently from other government institutions and judges have a unique role. However, several recent developments have contributed to the personalization of the judiciary. This personalization is linked to a new mode of legitimation, one based on engagement with the public. This shift has characterized the way all public officials seek legitimation, but it is a much bigger change for the judiciary, because judges have traditionally cultivated distance rather than familiarity

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