The Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision to permit the televising of trials in the state’s circuit courts brings to mind another question of television in a court: the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court will soon hear oral argument — the fascinating, highly informative back-and-forth between the justices and the lawyers before them — in a monumental case that will determine the constitutionality of the government’s new health care plan.
Everyone is interested. C-SPAN has asked the justices for permission to televise the extraordinary five-and-a-half hours of oral argument (most cases get just one hour) scheduled for March 26 through 28. But the Supreme Court, despite numerous requests and even proposed congressional action extending over several decades, has never permitted television.
The justices fear the presence of cameras would tarnish the court’s dignified proceedings. But bear in mind that the Supreme Court doesn’t try cases, so there’s no danger of uncorking sensational trials like those of O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony or Michael Jackson’s doctor. That’s not the issue.
Chief Justice John Roberts — offered the usual crap arguments politicians always come up with about undue influence, blah, blah.
In fact, there’s lots of experience to point to, and the precedents are clear: television would not impair the Supreme Court’s dignity or its proceedings.
Two-thirds of the state supreme courts admit cameras to their oral arguments. Two federal appellate courts have allowed them. They’re standard in the Supreme Court of Canada. Most of these courts have welcomed cameras for years without adverse consequences, effectively dispelling the vague worries of the justices in Washington…
In Canada the proceedings of the nation’s Supreme Court have been televised since the mid-1990s. Four fixed cameras, mounted high on the walls of the courtroom in Ottawa, face the bench and the counsel’s podium. When a judge asks a question, she pushes a button that both opens her microphone and focuses a camera on her.
“Our judges are proud of it,” said Andres Garin, executive legal officer of the Supreme Court of Canada. “There’s no downside. It has not been disruptive. There’s no playing to the camera.”
Of course, if the U.S. Supreme Court should allow television, but then finds that its presence is deleterious, the justices could always reverse their own decision. They’ve done it before.
Political cowards are usually political hypocrites. Please, let’s don’t ascribe legitimate motives to the hacks in black robes who oppose transparency. There are members of the court who support the broadcasts. They’re the one who weren’t appointed by Republicans.