It is conventional wisdom that appellate courts read the briefs, hear oral arguments and then deliberate in secret. Although there is criticism of some trial judges about the degree with which they have been conferences or chamber discussions with lawyers it is an accepted practice.  Just like every other appellate court the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court will continue to deliberate  in private.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court  — in an  administrative conference that was open to the public — rejected Chief Justice  Abrahamson’s proposal by a 6 to 1 vote, AP reports.

If you want to know more about the press coverage of the Wisconsin proposal see:

Todd Richmond, Wis. Justices Kill Plan to Open Deliberations, Associated Press, September 15, 2011; Ed Treleven, Justices Decide Against Opening Deliberations to Public, Madison.Com, September 16, 2011; Adam Cohen, Justice on Display: Should Judges Deliberate in Public?, September 12, 2011; Nathan Koppel, Feuding Mires Wisconsin Court, Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2011.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson  proposed that the Supreme Court open up all of their court conferences to the public in an effort to promote greater civility between the justices.  The Wisconsin Chief Justice said,

“[t]ransparency will help assure the public that we are working in a collegial fashion[.]”

Justice Annette Ziegler questioned whether public deliberations would turn the court into a reality television show, with camera crews following her into her office. Wisconsin has for decades allowed television cameras in virtually all of its trial courts.

Justice David Prosser raised the concern that remarks by justices during open deliberations could hand attorneys ammunition to challenge court rulings. “Clearly, this could influence what we say,” Prosser said. “It could stifle candor.”

So just how transparent should courts be?


  1. Recently I was told that in some South American countries, including Brazil, conferences of the highest court are not only open to the public, but they are broadcast nationally. Now that is transparency!


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