Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Sound Recordings of the Supreme Court of the United States Now Fully Digitized

The Moving Image and Sound Branch is pleased to announce that the sound recordings of RG 267: Records of the Supreme Court of the United States have been fully digitized and are available for listening and download through the National Archives Catalog. The audio recordings in Record Group 267 are organized into three series,  Sound Recordings of Oral Arguments – Black Series, October 1955 – December 1972, Sound Recordings of Oral Arguments – Red Series, December 1972 – June 27, 2005, and Sound Recordings of Oral Arguments – Gold Series, October 3, 2005 – May 31, 2020.

The Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., (Local Identifier: 30-N-45-1296)

The Supreme Court of the United States did not start recording oral arguments until the 1955 October term. Cases heard prior to that date can sometimes have a related transcript, but they were not captured consistently and do not exist for all cases. If they exist, pre-1955 transcripts can be found in Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, 1792-2017. Starting in October 1955, the Court captured all oral arguments for cases heard each term, as well as special proceedings such as memorial services and admissions to the bar. The recordings from these proceedings are organized chronologically by the date of the arguments. The judgments of the Court, which are called opinions, were not regularly recorded until the mid-1980s. If the opinion does exist, it can be found on the tape corresponding to the date the opinion was announced. 

Some well-known cases you can now listen to in the National Archives Catalog include Loving v. Virginia, Obergefell v. Hodges, Roe v. Wade, and Republic of Austria v. Altmann. 

Case 395 Loving et ux. v. Virginia was heard before the Supreme Court in 1967. The case was a landmark civil rights decision, ruling that laws banning interracial marriage violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case involved Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard Loving, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. In this instance, only the oral argument from the case exists as a sound recording.

Case 14-556 Obergefell v. Hodges was heard in 2015. The 5-4 decision in this case ruled that the fundamental right to legally marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The ruling requires all fifty states, the District of Columbia and all U.S.-associated jurisdictions to perform and recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples on the same terms as the marriages of opposite-sex couples. In our holdings, the oral argument recordings are split by each question asked of the Court, question 1 and question 2. The opinion from this case can also be found in our online catalog. 

Case 70-18 Roe v. Wade was argued twice, once in December 1971 and again in October 1972. When the case was first heard, the Court was not at full strength, being two justices short. It was decided the case was important enough that the issue should be heard by a full bench. The Court ruled 7-2 for Jane Roe stating that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant individual’s liberty to have an abortion. 

Case 03-13 Republic of Austria v. Altman was argued before the Court in February 2004 and its opinion was announced in June of the same year. The case held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) applies retroactively. Meaning that, lawsuits can apply FSIA standards to conduct that took place prior to 1976 when the FSIA was enacted. In a 6-3 decision for Altman, the Court ruled that Maria Altmann was authorized to pursue civil action against Austria in a U.S. district court for the recovery of five paintings stolen by the Nazis from her family and displayed in an Austrian government museum. 

The audio recordings from these Supreme Court cases and many more can be found by searching the National Archives catalog at catalog.archives.gov, using keywords such as the date of the case, docket number, or the name of the case.