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Ready for your closeup, your honor?

Post by Cheryl Tucker on June 30, 2009 at 8:00 pm with No Comments »
June 30, 2009 8:00 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition:

U.S. Supreme Court: Not ready for prime time?

Fourteen years ago, the Supreme Court of Washington heard arguments in a death penalty case, live on TVW. It has never looked back.

Today, all of its court proceedings are broadcast and archived online ( for future viewing – providing a valuable resource for teachers, attorneys, historians and everyday citizens interested in how the justice system works.

The U.S. Supreme Court is a different story. Despite individual justices proclaiming in their confirmation hearings that they’d have no problem with cameras in the courtroom, it hasn’t happened yet. But an opportunity has arisen. The strongest opponent of televising – Justice David "over my dead body" Souter – is retiring, and senators questioning nominee Sonia Sotomayor during the confirmation process should get her opinion of televising on the record.

There’s good reason to allow cameras in the Supreme Court. How much more connected Americans would feel to the highest court in the land if they could listen to attorneys argue cases that are likely to have ramifications throughout society. Think of the insight citizens could get into how decisions are made by listening to the questions posed by justices – and the tone used when posing them.

Some justices have argued that having cameras in the courtroom would alter the proceedings, that some of their brethren might ham it up. There’s always that chance, of course (and you know who you are, Scalia). But the tradeoff – greater transparency – would be well worth it.

In this state, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander says the cameras are not disruptive and he doesn’t sense they affect justices’ and attorneys’ behavior.

The weakest argument made against televising is the security issue – that justices would be more vulnerable to attack because their faces would become so well known.

Anyone interested in attacking Supreme Court justices already has plenty of ways to find out what they look like. Google is available to terrorists, too.

C-SPAN, the public service channel that airs live coverage of Congress and selected government-related events, is eager to televise the U.S. Supreme Court’s proceedings. At the very least, the justices should give it a chance. If it doesn’t work out, they can always discontinue coverage.

After all, they do know how to reverse a previous decision.

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