Friday, May 25, 2007

Cameras in the Court?

SCOTUSblog has a post giving the basics of the "cameras in the Court" issue (or perhaps I should say "non-issue"). Basically, Senator Specter has introduced a bill multiple times to force the Supreme Court to televise its proceedings. The obvious question is "Why?"

I assume the answer is something along the lines of "it would provide political education to a public that knows next to nothing about its Supreme Court." Now, that diagnosis seems correct (how many people do you know who can name even three of the Justices or name a Court case besides Roe v. Wade, Marbury v. Madison, or Brown v. Board?), but I don't necessarily think it's a problem. Now, I'm not condoning apathy, but in the context of the Court, it's fine. I'm troubled when apathetic people vote based on who's better looking or who has a better name, but the Court has no accountability, so the public at large has no real reason to know much about the Court. After all, C-SPAN exists so we can see government in action; so we can hold them accountable. Even if we see the Court in action and are outraged, there's absolutely nothing we can do about it, so this seems like knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

And that doesn't outweigh the cons. As the SCOTUSblog post points out, televising proceedings would allow for more grandstanding on the part of the attorneys and even on the part of the Justices (okay, maybe just one Justice... Can you imagine Scalia in front of a camera? He'd have a field day). And we always complain about the "sound bite" nature of the media; bringing the Court into is not a good idea. I think it would lead to a grave misunderstanding of the legal issues actually before the Court.

Some of the Justices cite safety concerns. The Court occassionally does some extremely unpopular things; increased exposure means increased risks. Indeed, David Souter is so passionate about this issue that he has said that any cameras entering the Court would have to "roll over my dead body."

There are also some issues of Due Process. This is more true, I think, of jury trials. Extensive (and perhaps slanted) media coverage can "decide" a case before it has even been brought to trial. The argument is that members of a jury will not give an unpopular defendant a fair shake if there is a large camera presence. But, I don't think the Justices would be swayed so easily.

One lawyer suggests that the cameras would actually make the justices behave better. Perhaps Scalia would cut back on the sarcasm. But, I don't buy it for one second. What are the Justices scared of? They're Supreme Court Justices for Christ's sake. Assuming they are even "misbehaving" now (which seems like a stretch), they would not suddenly behave just because some C-SPAN nerds like me are watching over them.

Even if the law does pass eventually (which is doubtful), I imagine the Court would rule that it is unconstitutional for Due Process reasons.

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