Bill would put justices in front of the camera

Last week a Senate panel debated and ultimately advanced a bill that would allow proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court to be televised.

According to this report by CNN, not all lawmakers are thrilled with the idea. “The Supreme Court doesn’t tell us how to run our business, and we shouldn’t tell them how to run their business,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in response to a bill sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Charles Grassley of Iowa.

“With a governmental process you should err on the side of openness,” Schumer said of the measure.

As DC Dicta has noted before, the justices of the Court aren’t all thrilled with the idea of being televised. C-SPAN has a neat little summary of comments the justices have made on the issue in recent years. Justice Antonin Scalia may enjoy being funny in the courtroom, but he does not want to take his act to TV.

“Not a chance,” Scalia said in 2005, “because we don’t want to become entertainment. I think there’s something sick about making entertainment out of other people’s legal problems. I don’t like it in the lower courts, and I don’t particularly like it in the Supreme Court.”

Justice David Souter echoed the sentiment in a more direct way. “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body,” he said in 1996.

Others aren’t so categorically opposed, like Justice Stephen Breyer. “When you say start with the video and see how it goes,” he said in 2005. “And be very, very cautious, I think that would reflect my view.”

Justice John Paul Stevens is on the fence – or at least it seemed so in comments he made in 1985. “In perhaps a dozen cases in the 10 terms in which I have been sitting, literally hundreds of people have stood in line for hour sin order to attend an argument, only to be denied admission because the courtroom was filled…[But TV might have] an adverse impact on the process that cannot be foreseen.”

Justice Clarence Thomas seems to have had a change of heart on the issue. During his 1991 conformation hearings, Thomas said: “I have no objection beyond a concern that the cameras be as unobtrusive as possible…It’s good for the American public to see what’s going on in there.”

But at a congressional hearing last year, Thomas said: “It runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider the cases. Certainly it will change our proceedings. And I don’t think for the better.”

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