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Frustrated With SCOTUS Website’s Outdated Media Player, This 2L Found a Way to Stream Oral Arguments

April 28, 2023

By Jeremy Conrad

Last semester, George Washington University Law School student Bradley Neal’s copyright class was assigned to listen to the U.S. Supreme Court’s oral argument in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Goldsmith. Bradley, a 2L, immediately spotted a problem. The Supreme Court’s media player is outdated, making on-the-go listening frustrating, and other sites and services that publish audio recordings of the Court’s oral arguments usually take days to do so.

Brad NealDrawing on his background in software engineering, Neal set about solving the problem by writing an algorithm that would check the Supreme Court’s website every day the Court is in session and immediately post oral arguments on multiple podcast platforms. The Supreme Court: Oral Arguments, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, enables the public to conveniently access them for free on the day of their publication.

The D.C. Bar spoke with Neal about the conception and execution of his project, which has acquired thousands of regular listeners and tens of thousands of downloads.

What led you to create your podcast?

I was in school, and the Supreme Court had just [started] its term. I looked for the cases we discussed on the Supreme Court’s website, and it’s like something from 2003. I’m not knocking it; I’ve come to like the court’s website because it is super predictable, and that makes a podcast like mine possible because I’m scraping it, and if they changed things that would interfere.

But [the Court has] a media player that is inconvenient. For example, if you are listening to [it] and you close your phone screen to put your phone in your pocket, as you would normally do with a podcast, it would turn off. It wasn’t really feasible for me to listen to oral arguments while I walked to school, while riding my bike, or doing the activities I like to do while listening to things.

There’s a platform called Oyez that publishes Supreme Court oral arguments, but they don’t always update in a timely fashion. I was frustrated. The Court almost always publishes same day, and the recordings usually come in the afternoon, so I knew that they were available, but not on the platform. Also, Oyez isn’t available on Spotify.

So, I said, I think this is a solvable problem. For me it was a fun problem because, as a software engineer, I want problems that are challenging, but not impossible. It was just the right difficulty.

The first thing I did was write a scraper that downloaded the Court files, the MP3 files, from the Court’s website, but then I realized that it was 50GB of media and was worried about how I could host that. I didn’t want to pay. So, I worked on the problem for a little over a week, pretty much nonstop, after school and on the weekends. What I eventually ended up doing was, instead of downloading the media, I just pointed the podcast at the Court’s website, so when someone listens to the podcast, they’re actually streaming from the Court’s servers. I’m just a middleman.

How do you ensure timely publication?

My scraper checks for new content and posts new episodes. To accomplish this, I needed something that would run every day. My computer isn’t always on, and I didn’t want to pay Amazon or something, so what I ended up doing is acquiring a tiny little minicomputer called a Raspberry Pi.

They’re actually in short demand, so I had to go onto Facebook Marketplace and buy it from a reseller, which was a little sketchy. I had to drive to Arlington at night … I was working on this around the clock, and once I had the idea to use a Raspberry Pi, it was Friday around 7 at night. I started messaging people on Marketplace asking, “Can I come tonight?”

I ended up finding this guy and drove over and met him in a dimly lit parking lot at midnight. I paid him $90 (they normally retail for about $50), and he gave me the Raspberry Pi. I didn’t know if it was real or if it was a knockoff. I didn’t know how to tell if I was getting ripped off, but it worked out. I ordered a little case off Amazon. The Raspberry Pi lives in this case, and I screwed it into the wall under my desk. It’s a permanent fixture of my apartment, and it is on all the time.

Brad NealWhat it does is it runs every day that the Court meets, and the day after. It goes to the Supreme Court’s website and counts the number of cases listed. If the number of cases listed matches the number on my stream, it does nothing. If the number of cases on the Court’s website is greater than the number on my stream, it grabs the newest one and adds it to my stream, and then counts again. If the number is still off, it grabs the second-newest one and adds it to my stream and counts again, and if the number matches, then it’s done.

What kind of feedback have you received about the podcast?

My dad has started listening. He’s not a lawyer. He was listening to the student debt relief case earlier this term; he was really curious about that. It was hilarious. He was texting me saying, “This case is really interesting. I hope it doesn’t get decided on standing!” He’d clearly listened to the case, googled “standing,” and clearly got a lot from it.

I think it’s a public good. These things should be accessible. They’re interesting, both to attorneys and law students, and [also] to lay people. I got an email from somebody who said, “I’m not a lawyer, I’m a cartoonist, and I love listening to it.” I’ve had some fan mail, which is great.

It isn’t possible to get accurate information about my total listenership. It exists on Apple, on Spotify, and through a generic feed that will allow someone to access the stream from other podcast players. I can’t take stats on the general feed, but on Spotify I have 6,000 listeners and 52,000 streams. Apple has similar stats. Most of my listenership is in the United States, but the second highest number of listeners is in the Philippines, followed by Canada and the U.K.

Are you planning to pursue a career in tech law?

This summer I’m interning at the Montgomery County Office of the Public Defender. I’m actually from Montgomery County. I think it seems like it’s a good experience. It’s fast-paced. In terms of justice, it’s kind of where the rubber meets the road. That, to me, is really cool.

But I am also really into the tech stuff. Obviously, I like coding, and I do software projects. Also, this semester I’ve been really into AI, so I took a course that was a deep dive into AI and the law. That course was awesome. I got to do some really cool research.

The other thing I’m into is blockchain. I started a blockchain law club at GW. I’ll be the first to tell you the blockchain isn’t perfect. It’s definitely not. I think 99 percent of the stuff that we hear about is kind of garbage, but the 1 percent, those bones are very interesting. I’ve been in that space for a decade now, and I’ve seen companies come and go. People ask me about FTX and whether crypto is over. I’ve seen six FTXs come and go. It’s like the flavor of the week.

I’ll definitely be doing some more tinkering. I have a list on my Notes app with ideas, and I have over a hundred. They’re not all great, but I’ve got so many ideas, and especially now with GPT4 … I use it for coding. My exams are all week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and I think Thursday I will start a new project. I don’t want to spill the tea, but I will tell you that it will be aimed at law students.