Cameras In the Supreme Court? Not So Fast

Feb 18, 2014 6:27pm

A group called the Coalition for Court Transparency is launching a campaign to urge  the Supreme Court to allow TV cameras to record its oral arguments.

That might be a tall order. Many of the justices have expressed reservations over the years regarding the impact cameras would have on the proceedings.

“We worry about the impact on lawyers,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in 2011.

Justice Elena Kagan seemed receptive to the idea in Aspen in 2011 when she described her days as Solicitor General watching the court.

“Everybody was so prepared, so smart, so obviously deeply concerned about getting to the right answer” she said. “I thought, ‘If everybody could see this, it would make people feel so good about this branch of government.’”

But last week she backtracked a bit during an appearance with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in New York. “As I’ve served on the court I’ve come to see more than I once did the reasons that cameras may not be such a good idea,” Kagan said.

Ginsburg agreed, noting that the public might be under the impression that the entire case concerns what goes on during oral argument if cameras are allowed in court. “The hard work is done back in our chambers,” Ginsburg said.

As things stand now, transcripts are made available soon after the argument and the audio is released on the following Friday, but only a few members of the public can actually witness the proceedings.

“Only a privileged few get to witness history and see justice in action,” says an ad produced by the Coalition for Court Transparency, which consist of media and pro- transparency groups including National Association of Broadcasters, National Press Foundation, the Alliance for Justice, and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

A spokesperson for the groups says the ad will run close to 300 times over the next month on cable news in the D.C. market.

Supporters of cameras in court can take some relief that Justice David Souter has retired from the bench. In 1996, according to the Associated Press he said, “I can tell you the day you see a camera in our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

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