Supreme Court Sound Recordings

The Moving Image and Sound Branch of the National Archives doesn’t just hold motion pictures.  It’s also home to over 300,000 sound recordings, including those from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court began recording its proceedings in 1955, but the court’s opinions were not recorded until the 1980s.  The recordings are organized chronologically.  Since cases are often argued over multiple days, cases can be split up between different recordings.

Some newly digitized landmark cases include:

  • Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 required states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The recordings are divided into three parts: question one, question two, and the opinion.
  • Engel v. Vitale in 1962 decided that school-initiated prayer in public schools violated the First Amendment.
  • Gideon v. Wainwright from 1963 declared that indigent defendants must be provided legal representation without charge.
  • Perhaps the best known Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade was argued over two dates: December 1971 and  October 1972.  The court declared abortion to be a constitutional right.
  • Loving et ux. v. Virginia struck down state laws that banned interracial marriage in 1967.

The recordings divided into 3 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 – June 30, 2023.

You can also find searchable Supreme Court recordings by court term as early as 1955 on Oyez. Additionally, the Supreme Court website hosts recordings as early as 2010 on its website. Both sites include audio transcripts.