Would Supreme Court cameras help build trust?
Whether to allow cameras inside the US Supreme Court has proven a contentious issue for yearsbut the leak of an explosive draft notice is about to overturn the 1973 story Roe vs. Wade decision adds new topicality to the debate. Are the live audio streams and transcripts from SCOTUS enough to satisfy an audience curious about such consequential decisions? Or do Americans have the right to attend High Court hearings in real time?
Cameras could turn SCOTUS into Congress
Perhaps the most significant criticism of SCOTUS’ televised proceedings is that the cameras could promote performative behavior in the lawyers’ courtroom and possible political grandstanding by judges seeking to score a seat. in the evening news. In other words, “putting video cameras in the courthouse would just make it look more like Congress,” said former acting U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Rosen. SCOTUSblog earlier this year. “We shouldn’t want our judges to be celebrities with constituencies. On the contrary, we should want them to be limited interpreters of the law, unlike politicians.”
And even if the courtroom weren’t “reduced to antics” like those on Capitol Hill, judges and lawyers would “inevitably act differently” in front of the cameras, “in ways that could prove detrimental to the pursuit of justice”. Washington Post columnist James Hohmann postulated in March 2021. “While transparency is a net positive, however, no one can argue that Congress is more effective today, let alone more civil or deliberative, than when the cameras arrived” in both bedrooms.
Other courts in the country do it without a problem
But there’s also the fact that, well, everyone does it.
Specifically, cameras are now allowed in each state supreme court in certain circumstances. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit also “livestreams its arguments, as do other appellate courts from time to time,” law professor Eric Segall wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in 2017. Britain, Canada, Brazil “and many other countries” allow cameras with “virtually no negative reports or safety concerns” as a result of the practice, he claimed.
Other proponents of televised hearings have pointed out that although live audio was only available during the pandemic, the court allowed “print coverage since its inception and recorded oral arguments for seven decades” largely without incident, Gabe Roth, executive director of Repair the Courtwrote to To post Last year. “If judges were using these drills to throw partisan arguments in hopes of getting accolades or sidekicks, we would have experienced that already,” he noted.
Lawmakers shouldn’t be telling judges what to do, anyway
In 2021, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation it would require the Supreme Court to televise public hearings. An official policy has yet to be enacted, but that may be for the best — Congress shouldn’t “dictate the presence of video cameras in the Supreme Court” anyway, Rosen wrote in his piece for SCOTUSblog.
“Neither branch should tell the other whether it allows video cameras in its own debates,” he continued. “Indeed, if comity were not enough to induce each branch to respect the other, it seems constitutionally questionable for Congress to unilaterally interfere in the workings of the court in such a fundamental way.”
Responsibility for Americans
With televised proceedings, others have argued, the American public could familiarize themselves with the nation’s high court, better understand the judicial process, and, even if it did not change the outcome, give legitimate testimony to decisions of public interest, such as those relating to same-sex marriage or abortion.
“Americans should be able to watch their institutions operate in real time, just as they do with White House press conferences, congressional hearings, etc.” New York Times Editorial contributor Jonathan Sherman wrote in 2015. And it’s only an appeals court after allor “[h]istrionics are mostly wasted,” the Los Angeles Times Editorial board added the same year.
Watching judges and lawyers “respectfully debate contentious legal issues” would also be “a wonderful example of how officials can disagree without undue hard feelings,” Segall added, summarizing the comments of Texas judge Don Willett, in his item for the Los Angeles Times.
And perhaps opening the case would help build confidence and make Americans care more about the tribunal, whose “rulings impact every corner of our country,” Lysette Romero Córdova said for the American Bar Association.
For Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationthe matter at the center of the disclosed opinion, raw story Journalist Matthew Chapman took the argument for increased transparency one step further, advocating “more leaks” and cameras during the vote, so the court can gauge expert and public opinion as well as the consequences of their decisions in relatively real time.