Sen. Arlen Specter’s Closing Statement: Supreme Court “Eating Congress’ Lunch”

Dec 21, 2010 3:51pm

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue reports:  Sen. Arlen Specter, in remarks he dubs his "closing argument," makes one last effort before retirement to encourage Congress to require the Supreme Court to televise its proceedings.

His harshly worded comments — prepared for delivery on the floor of the Senate as his final statement – eviscerate the Supreme Court for its recent campaign finance decision.  Specter says the Court ignored a massive congressional record in reversing decades old campaign finance legislation.

 "The Court has been eating Congress’s lunch," Specter says, "by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect Congressional fact finding and precedents."

In his prepared remarks, Specter targets Chief Justice John Roberts and mocks Roberts' pre-confirmation congressional pledge to act as an umpire.  "Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then moved the bases," Specter says.

Congress "could at least require televising the court proceedings to provide some transparency to inform the public about how the Court is the final word on the cutting issues of the day in our society," he insists.
  
A few weeks ago, Justice Antonin Scalia was speaking to a conservative audience and was asked about cameras in the Court. When Scalia made mention of the fact that Specter (the chief congressional proponent of cameras in the court)  was retiring, the audience erupted with an explosion of applause. 

An extended excerpt of Specter's prepared remarks follows:

"Next, Congress should act to try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the Constitutional mandate of separation of power.  The Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect Congressional fact finding and precedents.  The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative.  Ignoring a massive Congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising – effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person/one vote.   Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then moved the bases.         

Congress’s response is necessarily limited in recognition of the importance of judicial independence as the foundation of the rule of law.   Congress could at least require televising the court proceedings to provide some transparency to inform the public about how the Court is the final word on the cutting issues of the day in our society.  Brandeis was right that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  The Court does follow the election returns and does judicially notice societal values as expressed by public opinion.  Polls show 85% of the American people favor televising the Court when told that a citizen can only attend an oral argument for three minutes in a chamber holding only 300 people.  Great Britain, Canada, and state supreme courts permit television.

Congress has the authority to legislate on this subject just as Congress decides other administrative matters like what cases the Court must hear, time limits for decisions, the number of justices, the day the Court convenes and the number for a quorum.  While television cannot provide a definitive answer, it could be significant and may be the most that can be done consistent with life tenure and judicial independence."

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