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Cameras in the Court?
Dan Henninger has this column today in the Wall Street Journal about his first time listening to oral argument in the Supreme Court. I know how he felt. My first time was only a few years ago when I went to listen to argument in the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative case, and had the same reaction as he did. As much as I would like to watch oral argument on C*SPAN, I have to think that this particular aspect of the Supreme Court is not broke and does not need to be fixed. People cite C*SPAN in Congress as the model (as well as televised state supreme courts), but I hardly think Congress is operating particularly well.

I am not saying that the Supreme Court does not need any reform. Most important among those I have read about is reforming its private conferences so the Justices debate more before voting. But I am content with audio of oral argument released soon afterwards. I can do without cameras in the Supreme Court. Can you? Comments are enabled.
Cornellian (mail):
O.J. Simpson.


Stick with audio only. Who cares what the justices look like?
4.28.2006 8:59am
Ramza:
Randy would you be for the Supreme Court oral arguements to be video tapped for historical record, if the video isn't released for a period greater than a decade?
4.28.2006 9:04am
TO:
Ramza's idea isn't a bad one, but I'd prefer not to take a step in that direction. I like the Supreme Court's practice as-is.
4.28.2006 9:45am
Bpbatista (mail):
Some how the Republic has managed to muddle through nearly 220 years without cameras in the Supreme Court, I think we can manage a few more.
4.28.2006 9:51am
Brennan:
The primary political impact of cameras in the Court (especially if they provided same-day video) would be that media and political organizations could use 15 to 30 second clips to summarize 30 to 60 minutes of argument plus hundreds of pages of briefs and record (representing hundreds or thousands of hours of analysis and consideration by -- usually - very smart lawyers). The mind boggles (at least mine does) at the possibilities for demagoguery and misrepresentation of the issues actually raised by the case.

The judiciary should be the most dispassionate branch of government and should be the most insulated from the immediate emotional reactions of the majority or influential minorities. Allowing cameras in the Court would, I think, seriously undermine either the ability of the Court to be perceived as relatively neutral/non-political or the efficacy of oral argument.
4.28.2006 10:09am
Steve:
Regular people should be able to see for themselves how the Supreme Court operates without taking a trip to Washington. It's their government too.

The oft-expressed fear is that cameras will transform Supreme Court practice by encouraging lawyers to grandstand for the cameras. Mind you, I'm pretty confident the Justices will take a dim view of such grandstanding. So why would anyone risk upsetting the Court just to appeal to the sympathies of the TV audience? Only the Justices get to decide, after all. This isn't going to be "American Courtroom" where you press 1 to vote for the petitioner and 2 to vote for the respondent.

I'm in favor of more openness in government. In an age when politicians are out there telling all kinds of stories about the activist judges who vote the "wrong" way on cases, why not let the voters see for themselves how the Court actually does its business? Let's not keep it a black box for the vast mass of Americans who don't hang out in Washington.
4.28.2006 10:12am
Mahlon:
I listened to my first oral argument on Tuesday of this week. Several things struck me about the Justice's demeanor and overall approach to argument. Part of me thinks the public would be well-served by seeing the Court at work. But I worry about three things. First, as you know if you have argued appellate cases before, oral argument seldom moves a cases in any direction. For most cases, it simply doesn't mean much and does not give a very good indication of how the Court will ultimately rule. So I don't see broadcasting arguments as serving any useful end.

Second, I don't trust the public, especially the media, to understand what the legal issues are in a given case. Those issues are sometimes very different from the merits of the case. I can see the headlines now. "Court rejects claim of infant mutilated by drunk doctor." Of course, the issue before the Court in my fictional case has to do with a statute of limitations or governmental immunity of the amublance service which transported the infant or some such. The media paints with too broad a brush. Too much of our news is already reduced to sound-bites, already.

Finally, I worry about the fodder which might come from broadcasting. During argument on Tuesday, Nino was flat funny - biting comments, often directed at Congress. I can imagine what the Sunday morning pundits would do with that. And to what end?

There are many things wrong with America's judiciary. Failing to air SCOTUS arguments is not one of them.
4.28.2006 10:20am
KenB (mail):
I don't see any need to televise the proceedings on a regular basis. If the desire is to let people get a sense of how the court operates without having to be physically present, maybe cameras could be allowed in for one or a few selected cases and that footage could be incorporated into a documentary, with context and explanations and history and so forth. As far as openness of government is concerned, I don't see why the audio &transcripts aren't adequate.
4.28.2006 10:35am
hapenstance (mail):
You reference the effect of CSPAN in Congress, and I would argue that while the educational value of making Congressional debate available for all to see is beneficial to the general public, it has also altered debate inextricably in the Congress--FOR THE WORSE. Instead of actually focusing on substantive debate, the presence of cameras encourages grandstanding and platitudes on the floors of the House and Senate. Member debate, and even the special orders speeches, has become an exercise in partisan one-upsmanship (sic) instead of substantive ideological debate. It's frustrating for those who have worked in the Congress to see the devolution of Congressional debate over the last 20 years, due in large part to the presence of CSPAN. Can an argument be made that the cameras have had an overall positive effect on the general public because it fosters involvement by the electorate? Of course. But I also believe that many of the issues considered by the Congress are quite complicated and the presence of cameras forces members to appeal to the lowest common denominator by whittling down substantive issues into sound bite crumbs. I think the devolution of debate in the House and Senate ill-behooves the American people and the legislative system as a whole.

My question to you is do you believe a similar effect would arise in courtrooms if cameras were allowed in??
4.28.2006 10:43am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
On a related note, does anyone know where you can find Supreme Court courtroom paintings online? I *really* want to find a fullsized image of Justice Ginsburg with her head on the desk...

I've looked everywhere... help please!
4.28.2006 10:49am
Houston Lawyer:
I'm just trying to think of all the ways in which TV news coverage has enriched our lives. How will we ever live without Dan Rathers to tell us what to think?
4.28.2006 10:58am
Mattattack:
The Supreme Court is televised in Canada. I haven't noticed any big effect. The media will spin the big cases the way they want whether there is video or not. They will similarly ignore the less sexy cases regardless. I certainly haven't noticed any grand standing for the cameras by judges or lawyers. So I see it as a small net benefit (the (very) small net benefit being the opportunity to stay up late to watch Supreme Court argument reruns). Actually, I think there are significantly greater risks of televising lower court proceedings, which we don't do in Canada, but which appears to occur sometimes in the U.S.
4.28.2006 11:01am
K Bennight (mail):
You have to consider how any proposed change will interact with human nature. If you put in cameras, both counsel and judges will play to the cameras. Wishing otherwise will not make it so.
4.28.2006 11:09am
Robert Cosgrove (mail):
Gee, televising Senate Judiciary hearings has done such wonders for the confirmation process that it's almost inconceivable that anyone could have a problem with broadcasting the US Supreme Court.
4.28.2006 11:26am
Luke R.:
Has anyone here read the Dysfunctional Congress? I suspect that the more people know about the ins and outs about how the branches of gov't actually get things done, the less they like it. Since the court is utterly dependent on legitimacy to have any power at all, maybe we should leave the cameras out.
4.28.2006 11:27am
Steve:
I see a lot of folks here who genuinely think they know best what information the common folk are entitled to receive.
4.28.2006 11:39am
cynic:
Television alters the actions of the subjects televised in somewhat the same way as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. In my opinion, that alteration is never for the better. No cameras, please. Of course, I detest television for almost any purpose of recreation or "information" delivery. It's corrosive of our culture.
4.28.2006 11:45am
Luke R.:
Only because available empirical evidence indicates that the common folk don't want to see certain kinds of information.
4.28.2006 11:46am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
I have to agree with hapenstance. As a matter of fact, one of the hot topics on last Sunday's talking head shows was if Tony Snow would get the cameras out of the daily White House press briefings. Almost all the pundits felt that the presence of cameras had resulted in a lot of stupid grandstanding by the reporters.
4.28.2006 11:50am
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm amazed that Steve is the only one making the point that average folk deserve to see what this "Supreme Court" is -- the Court that is part of their government and affects their lives, often quite significantly. There are certainly plausible arguments against cameras, but the response that "we can't let ordinary people watch it because they won't understand and will be dangerously confused" is troublingly elitist, to say the least.
4.28.2006 12:13pm
Mahlon:
If the members of the general public saw Justice Ginsburg, they would what she is doing on the bench. On Tuesday, I felt badly for Justice Alito, who sits beside her. Ginsburg can't speak without spraying saliva across the bench. She is not in good shape and I question her efficacy as a jurist. I certainly was not impressed with her questions. Then again, Justice Thomas didn't say a word.
4.28.2006 12:16pm
frankcross (mail):
So far, the arguments I'm seeing against cameras are "fear of accountability." The people can't be trusted with this information! The media is unreliable (perhaps we shouldn't permit too much coverage of the other branches either).

I can live without them, though, so long as there are audiotapes and transcripts that allow the justices to be identified when participating.
4.28.2006 1:17pm
Steve:
I'm amazed that Steve is the only one making the point that average folk deserve to see what this "Supreme Court" is -- the Court that is part of their government and affects their lives, often quite significantly.

I'm pretty surprised, too, because the commentariat here at the VC otherwise tends to be populist in the extreme. Less regulation by the ABA, fewer barriers to entry into the legal profession, more common-sense application of the people's will by judges and less mumbo-jumbo from self-appointed high priests.

No one disputes that the presence of TV cameras necessarily alters the events being televised. But that doesn't make it any less troubling when the elites sit around and dictate the "proper" flow of information to the people, the same people whose consent makes this government possible in the first place. The solution to problems like "misleading sound bites" is more transparency rather than less, at least under my understanding of our central principles.
4.28.2006 1:27pm
Guest poster (mail):
I have to agree with Mahlon. I have listened to many recent oral arguments, and Justice Ginsburg's questions are consistently the weakest of the Justices. And she talks so incredibly slow! She seems very frail to me; I doubt she will last more than a few more years. I doubt she is an effective jurist as well. Rumor has it she defers very substantially to her clerks. In general, she has not released many notable opinions, with the exception of her bizarro switcheroo in Booker, which she left unexplained; these days, who knows how engaged she is with the Court's decisionmaking.

Justice Stevens, on the other hand, continues to ask trenchant questions and really seems with it, even at 86 years old. You may disagree with his decisions, but I think those on the right and on the left should agree that he is a wonderful, respectable man.
4.28.2006 1:27pm
SimonD (www):
For reasons I offered in comments here and here, I would not want cameras in the Supreme Court. In fact, I would go even further: I would remove them from the Congress. They have not, on the whole, had a positive effect on Congress, where there is a legitimate argument for having cameras, and so I cannot imagine they would do anything but detract from the Court, where there is no legitimate argument for having cameras.

The public has a legitimate interest in what the Court does; for that reason, oral arguments should be released, as audio recordings and transcripts (I would oppose live audio, and I do not believe in the propriety of releasing either transcripts or recordings of the argument until the case is handed down, so in some ways, my preference would be to restrict, not expand, limitations on the materials available between argument and handing down) but it seems to me that the proponents of televising the court seem to be saying that the public is too lazy and stupid to digest the activities of the Supreme Court by way of reading its opinions, or failing that, listening to oral arguments. Even if one buys the diagnosis of the malady, never is it made entirely clear why television cameras are the remedy.
4.28.2006 1:41pm
gvibes (mail):
Did anyone else find Luke R.'s reponse - "Only because available empirical evidence indicates that the common folk don't want to see certain kinds of information" - to Steve's post - "I see a lot of folks here who genuinely think they know best what information the common folk are entitled to receive" hilarious?
4.28.2006 1:51pm
SimonD (www):
Mahlon:
I certainly was not impressed with [Ginsburg's] questions. Then again, Justice Thomas didn't say a word.
Is the only way to participate meaningfully in oral argument - or any deabte - to ask questions? Or is there some virtue in listening carefully to what is said, and only asking questions for the sake of being heard?

To tie this to Randy's current whereabouts, do you comment on every blog post you read? Do you feel that one has to post a comment in order to feel intellecturally engaged in the topic, or do you sometimes just read the post and other people's comments, feel interested and engaged by it, but not have anything substantive to add? I read most of the posts at VC, and often a good chunk of the comments threads. Don't often comment, though, because mostly other commenters get to the same points I would make. I comment - or ask questions - when I have something to say. I think if you asked Justice Thomas, he'd say the same thing.
4.28.2006 2:03pm
Houston Lawyer:
Justice Thomas never asks questions at oral arguments. That's just his style. I'm sure oral arguments are good theatre for some, but I doubt they often have any substantive effect.
4.28.2006 2:23pm
Bruce:
There's something nice about going to a baseball game in person too -- and I don't even like baseball. Does that mean cameras should be banned? No.

As for the argument cameras would change the court, or the people wouldn't be able to follow the nuances of arguments -- it's the people's court and they have a right to see the proceedings (in trial courts you have issues such as witness and juror privacy, and criminal defendants' right to be free from a tainted jury, but none of those concerns applies to appeals). If they get it wrong, well, that's the price of living in a democracy.

On the C-SPAN point, my impression is that less and less serious business was taking place on the floor of the chambers well before C-SPAN. If anything, the cameras might be responsible for the preservation of some semblance of floor debate. To the extent there's a problem, I don't think it's inherent with cameras. Question Time in Parliament is televised, and still seems relatively erudite.

At the very least same-day audio ought to be released in every case, but that doesn't fully meet the Court's obligation as a public institution.
4.28.2006 2:29pm
Mahlon:
SimonD - You assume I find fault in Justice Thomas's approach. I do not. He was a very attentive listener on Tuesday. I suppose I did not make my point very well. My point is that Ginsburg's questions added nothing more to the debate than did Thomas's silence. In looking back on my post, I really mangled it. My apologies.

I do find Thomas's approach to be curious, though. I understand he rarely asks questions during argument. Why is he always content in following, or rather, letting others lead, the debate? You would think he would get the bit in his mouth once in a while and try to stir things up. I appreciate his approach to his job and think he does it quite well. He was, however, the only Justice not to ask a question during the two arguments I watched.

This is not to say Thomas was completely silent during argument. He and Justice Breyer had a running conversation during the second argument (on a FEHBA case). I wonder what they were discussing? In watching him during argument, I heard Mrs. Click, my third grade teacher, in my mind: "Clarence, is there something you'd like to share with the class?"

Also, I have to agree GuestPoster. Stevens is still fully engaged. I don't much like how he rules, but at least I know it's his mind that is doing his work.

Thank you for calling me out. It's nice to know someone is paying attention.
4.28.2006 2:42pm
hapenstance (mail):
Some very good posts here and some points well versed. At the end of the day, I agree that same day sound recordings should be made available to the public.

...And if you really want to have an effect on the way that Congress does business, require that all Conference Committees be shown live on CSPAN. That would be a very eye-opening experience for most of the general public
4.28.2006 2:44pm
Brennan:
Steve,
Phrasing the issue as whether the "common folk" are "entitled" to see videos of the Court's oral arguments seems like a misstatement. As far as I know, there is no clear existing entitlement of anybody to televised arguments (via Constitutional provision, statute or court rule). This argument is really about what is wise policy.

The status quo is that everybody has the same access: live attendance (somewhat hard to get and therefore plausibly somewhat elitist), audio-only recordings via the internet (not elitist), written transcripts (not elitist), and media accounts (not elitist).

I personally don't see much additional value in making video available; I don't even see that much additional information is made available. I do see a significant downside. Very few Americans will bother to watch an entire oral argument. Many interest groups, however, will find it worthwhile to use misleading excepts of oral arguments to smear the justices they oppose (or the President/party which appointed those justices).

So, for those who support adding cameras to oral argument, what value do you see added by video of oral arguments? (Beyond what is available through live attendance, audio-only recordings, written transcripts, and media accounts.)
4.28.2006 2:45pm
SimonD (www):
Question Time in Parliament is televised, and still seems relatively erudite
Question time is, yes, because that's the part of parliamentary procedings which ever makes it onto British television. For a brief period, Parliament ran a gavel-to-gavel webcast of its procedings, and they were as thinly-attended as are those of the House or Senate. But in any event, I don't think you can compare Parliament to Congress; very different animals.

I think it's a strawman to say that those who are opposed to cameras are opposed to the public knowing what goes on in the courtroom. Anyone can attend oral argument. Anyone can listen to what goes on at oral argument. Anyone can read the opinions. The Supreme Court of the United States is not the Star Chamber. But there is a big difference between the proposition that the public has a right to know (or even, more plausibly, that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing) what goes on at oral argument, and the quite different proposition that such access must be to a live feed, or even more spectacularly disconnected from the identified "problem", that the court should be televised.
4.28.2006 2:45pm
msk (mail):
We occasionally see scholars unable to pick out the jokes or the general tone from old written transcripts -- but it seems like we more often see excerpts from CSPAN video misused to "prove" bias, or dimness, or in attempts to scoop/spin a story on controversial points.

Ramza's question about archiving videos for ten years before release is interesting, but as Barnett said, you can study oral arguments in text -- because you aren't rushing in to present your case to the same set of justices in the same hour. By the time you get to the court, you'll be dealing with different issues and other public opinion forces.
4.28.2006 2:47pm
TC (mail):

Gee, televising Senate Judiciary hearings has done such wonders for the confirmation process that it's almost inconceivable that anyone could have a problem with broadcasting the US Supreme Court.

It's hard to argue with that (although I'm sure someone will).
4.28.2006 2:47pm
Thief (mail) (www):
"The law is reason, free from passion." - Aristotle (via Legally Blonde)

The problem is that television does an exceptionally good job transmitting passion and an exceptionally poor one transmitting reason. I have begun to refer to TV cameras as "stupid rays" because they have a remarkable power to decrease the IQ of anyone they're around, especially the people they're pointing lenses and mikes at.

I have been watching TV turn many institutions of government, from the press (watching the spoiled brats griping about how they can't watch CNN on Air Force One), to Congress (watching Senators staging press conferences at a Capitol Hill gas station to denounce oil company profits, then driving back in SUV's and Cadillacs), to the criminal prosecution system (everything from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Duke Rape case.) I agree with Prof. Barnett. Enough is enough!
4.28.2006 2:52pm
SimonD (www):
Mahlon,
Sorry for the misunderstanding; I think it's become almost routine at this point for people to rip on Justice Thomas, and I read too much into your comment. :p

I agree with you to the extent that I think we all find it weird that Thomas almost never asks questions; it's one of the reasons why, despite the newly-fashionable art of Ninobashing (popularized by, among others, our host Prof. Barnett), Justice Scalia will always have one up on Justice Thomas for me. It just seems odd to my mind, and it isn't the way I'd approach oral argument; indeed, if Scalia wasn't there to prod counsel in the way one might assume Thomas would be inclined to, I'd go so far as to say Thomas lack of interest in leading argument rose to the point of being a problem. However, with all that being said, that's just his way, I understand the reasoning behind it, and I think it's reasonable and (for now) harmless. Of course, that means that in the next ten years, either our Fearless Leader and Justice Alito have to step up to the place and get as aggressive with counsel as is Scalia, or we have to confirm Kozinski. You know, one or the other. ;)

(It does bear noting, by the way, that Thomas sometimes does ask questions, and when he does, the rest of the Court tends to immediately shut up and let him, which I think is very admirable; in a way, maybe that's an argument for cameras: I think it'd be fun to see every head on the bench and in the courtroom suddenly snap round in surprise when Thomas addresses counsel, and what's even funnier is that when you listen to the tapes where Thomas does ask a question, the litigant to whom he speaks with a measurable quaver in their voice).
4.28.2006 3:00pm
SimonD (www):
To adapt an old joke:
I have begun to refer to TV cameras as "stupid rays" because they have a remarkable power to decrease the IQ of anyone they're around, especially the people they're pointing lenses and mikes at.
So just how many cameras were pointing at Biden during the Roberts and Alito hearings?

Cheap, but funny.
4.28.2006 3:01pm
CJColucci (mail):
Of course we can "do without" cameras in the Supreme Court. But what's the real question? Is it "would I be interested in watching Supreme Court arguments on TV?" (yes) Is it "will television do a good job of it on the regular news shows?" (probably not) Is it "Is it good for people to have this?" (who put us in charge of such things?) Is it "Do people want it?" (put it out there and see -- that's how we figured out whether people wanted CSI or My Mother the Car) Is it "Will it change the way the Court functions in a bad way?" That one I can actually answer, having tried two televised cases. No. And that's actual experience, not vapors about "human nature."
4.28.2006 3:18pm
Prosqtrixi:
The New Jersey Supreme Court has been doing live webcasts for about a year now. The videos are then archived for later viewing. I don't see why the U.S. Supremes couldn't do the same. Here in NJ, the webcasts have been great. I doubt that audio recordings would make the same impression. Watching an argument on issues that I care about has been extremely beneficial. Here's a link to Monday's schedule. There are some criminal cases scheduled and an interesting eminent domain case.

http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/webcast/op060501.htm
4.28.2006 3:22pm
Nunzio (mail):
The problem with televising oral argument is that it might give the impression that it makes a difference; it doesn't. Instead of televising oral argument, they should dispense with it and make these guys argue among themselves for a half hour about each case.
4.28.2006 3:22pm
Bruce:
CJ, I think you're right that it won't change the behavior of advocates much. They're already playing before the biggest and most important audience of their career, even if they've been there multiple times. And their ethical duties as lawyers require them to stick to the point. It's the judges I think that provoke the most well founded worry.

If this seems inconsistent with what I posted earlier, I'm not immune to the concerns. I just think public access means more than being able to read a dry transcript 15 days later, or being able to fly to DC and stand in line for 3 hours for a slim shot at actually getting a seat. And I think public access is required in a free and open society, barring compelling (not just unsettling or vaguely troubling) reasons to close proceedings. If judges are concerned about the effect of cameras on themselves or their colleagues, then they need to address that, but the solution is not banning cameras.
4.28.2006 3:33pm
Vorn (mail):
It is interesting to see all the conservatives here who are afraid of cameras. What are they afraid of, that it will make confirmation hearings more political? Last time I checked, they can't get any more so. Oh wait, maybe it will result in less deference to the Court. Is that a bad thing? You would think that Scalia would want the court to have less deference, since he thinks its activism is anti-democratic.

The real explanation for people's opposition to the cameras is fear of change. If cameras were brought in, it would hardly be the end of the world. Confirmation hearings would remain just as political. The political capital of the Court would not wildy fluctuate. But some people have difficulty accepting progress because of imagined fear. It has always been that way.

Cameras would be progress. As a law student about to graduate, I can say that audio is not a great substitute for video. I like to be able to see who is asking questions, because Justices have different styles and different thought patterns and having video helps one connect those thought patterns to particular Justices more efficiently. With audio, it can be difficult to know who is talking, and further, language is easer to follow and understand when it is accompanied by body language, which is communicated visually. People will give physical signals of what they think is most important. So, video provides more information.

Reading transcripts of oral arguments is inefficient compared to either audio or video. It takes longer to read a transcript than listen to it, but it does not necessarily add anything, depending on your purpose. Ideally, I want access to both video AND a transcript. Again, you lose the information that body language provides.

So there you have it. Conservatives afraid of change standing in the way of progress. In this case, a communication medium is available which provides more information, but we can't take advantage of it because of irrational fear of change.

The funny thing is, that I used to be a conservative. I voted for Bush both times. Then the Republicans took over and I got to see how they actually govern and what their priorities are. Im afraid that, from my observation, one of those priorities is not innovation, with some exceptions. What happened to school vouchers? Those were the sorts of innovative ideas that made me think I was a conservative, but in reality, they aren't pushed for when you have a majority of Republicans in both houses of Congress. Well it's now or never. Instead, at the top of the conservative agenda are tax cuts and lets have the government do less because it is by definition a incapable of functioning. I want government to embrace innovation and do things better. But as I have found out, that is not typically the first priority of conservatives, as much as making it do less. If I have to choose between less and better, I am going to choose better.

If conservatives are the ones standing in the face of history, screaming stop, then I am sorry, I can't join the club. Instead, I will stick to and push for innovation and creative change, as I have been trained as a software engineer. In the long run, the dinosaurs will die out, even as they slow things down due to their fear of change.
4.28.2006 3:36pm
SimonD (www):
Vorn-
Oh boy, congratulations! You got us! Behind all the arguments, what's really behind scepticism of the efficacy of cameras in the courtroom is because we're afraid. You get the prize! You get double points if you can tell us precisely what we're afraid OF - do you want to take the money you've got, or would you like to play double-or-nothing?

*sigh*

You say cameras would be progress; I dispute that. Certainly, cameras would be change, but change is not a synonym of progess. The arguments you offer for cameras amount to precisely zero, just like every other argument for cameras. Nor is there anything compellingly broken about the court for which cameras would provide a remedy. When there is no good argument for doing something, and a few reasonable arguments against it, what should we do? Change for the sake of change isn't progress, either. If you're a software engineer, you better than anyone else should be aware of the maxim that if it ain't broke, don't screw with it.
4.28.2006 3:45pm
Steve:
Video is a more accessible medium for most people, an easier way to process information than reading a transcript or listening to pure audio, and a cable TV channel like C-SPAN is clearly more accessible to people than audiotapes on the Internet which most people are completely unaware of.

Of course, if following the Supreme Court is a huge priority of yours, the information is there to be found. But for the people who don't see it as a top priority, but who are nonetheless interested in learning more about how the government functions, I think it's useful.

The arguments for cameras in the Supreme Court are obviously not overwhelming - we've gotten by for a long time without them. But I really don't get how anyone can say there would be no positive at all; the positives are obvious, just as the negatives are mostly obvious. One thing to remember, in the long history of jurisprudence regarding public access and media access to the courts, is that there has always been a strong presumption in favor of access.
4.28.2006 4:01pm
eng:
Yes, people do seem to fault Thomas for his style. My conlaw professor would always snicker and say something such as "of course Thomas says nothing" (usually with a pretty clear tone of disapproval).

I'm not sure it's a matter of leading or following. There seems to be a clearer explanation at-hand by comparing Thomas's opinions with the content of the oral arguments. His (written) opinions tend to be "radical" with respect to the analysis brought up at oral argument and with respect to the greater court. That is, Thomas approaches many constitutional questions from a completely different perspective.

As a tactical matter it isn't very useful to engage Thomas's analytical approach at oral argument. It isn't likely to be very effective with the other judges, and the goal isn't to present the "best argument" but, in the limited time you have, to make an argument that is mostly likely to get the majority to rule in your favor.
4.28.2006 4:01pm
Mahlon:
Vorn - When you have practiced for a while, you will understand why "Courts speak through their journal entries." The spoken word is not nearly as precise as the written one. It is not as easy to interpret and anaylyze. That's why it is written. To hoist oral argument up onto a pedestal, which televising would, tends to diminish the written opinion, which is, after all, the only thing that really matters. You would be well-served, as would your clients in the future, to avoid concluding that all that is "progressive" is good. Reasoned analysis, not labeling, is what makes a lawyer effective.

As a law student, you think video is superior to audio. What a troubling observation. The law is written. It is written for a reason. And if you think that video (except for discovery or trial, i.e. facts) is necessary to be a good lawyer, you're simply misguided. I'd ask for a tuition refund. Your school is doing something terribly wrong.
4.28.2006 4:04pm
18 USC 1030 (mail):
I, though most here would probably disagree would rather see Courts of first instance televised than the Supreme Court. This is for one major reason-- The proceedings of the former actually are the decision of the court. The proceedings in the later are not. In many cases Justices ask questions that seem to give indication which way they will vote. Yet, in many cases these questions mean nothing and is merely an exercise in playing Devil's Advocate. It seems to me that making Supreme Court argument more accesable would actually do harm, because it will have the effect of adding to the importance of oral argument and detracting from the importance of the decision of the court. Release the briefs, release the decisions, if you really want, release transcripts or audio of oral argument. But, DO NOT make it so accessable that the public is made to think that oral argument gives any indication as to the decision of the court.

In this way SCOTUS and the Congress are totally different; the debate of the congress leads to the decision on law. The oral argument of SCOTUS merely provides a tool to answer certain questions.
4.28.2006 4:18pm
te (mail):

As a law student, you think video is superior to audio. What a troubling observation. The law is written.

The "law" may be, but we are talking about oral arguments here which are not "law". Even if there are cameras, I imagine that the justices will continue to offer written opinions, not off the cuff oral opinions.

And while I recognize the good clean fun generated by berating a law student, you might want to keep in mind that a videotape is nearly always superior to a transcript (or even an audio-tape) when trying to understand what someone is saying. Anyone who has ever compared a deposition or court transcript with a videotape will know that expression, timing, nuance, and gestures in videotapes illuminate what someone is saying nearly as much as the actual words. Presumably, that is the point of reading a transcript of the supremes oral argument - to get a sense of what the justices were thinking and saying.

(And yes, I understand that it doesn't mean a whit compared to the written opinions.)
4.28.2006 4:28pm
SimonD (www):
Steve:
a cable TV channel like C-SPAN is clearly more accessible to people than audiotapes on the Internet which most people are completely unaware of . . . the information is there to be found . . . But for the people who don't see it as a top priority, but who are nonetheless interested in learning more about how the government functions, I think it's useful.
That most people are unaware that oral arguments are available online, that's a great argument for publicizing the Oyez project. Now, what's your argument for TV cameras in the court?

But I really don't get how anyone can say there would be no positive at all
What's the positive? That a few SCOTUS geeks - myself included - would have to rearrange our schedules to watch the coverage? That Justice Scalia would win new fans, and Justice Ginsburg might lose some? Positive, sure - but hardly strong reasons for cameras.
4.28.2006 4:41pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Yeah, baseball was much better when it was broadcast over telegraph with operators moving figures of players on the scoreboard to dramatize what just happened.
4.28.2006 4:44pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I don't like the tenor of these comments, as if the presumption should be that cameras should be kept out. To me, the presumption is the opposite. Proceedings in the Supreme Court are not classified. The theory of open government and democracy is that sunlight is the best disinfectant and the public has the right to know what the government is doing. Further, conducting court sessions in public is surely part of both the original and contemporary understandings of due process.

Unless there is some STRONG reason why televising proceedings would cause some horrible interference with the justice system or some other tangible harm, they should be televised, period.
4.28.2006 5:05pm
Bruce:
That most people are unaware that oral arguments are available online, that's a great argument for publicizing the Oyez project. Now, what's your argument for TV cameras in the court?

Simon, (a) the Oyez project is audio-only, and (b) the tapes are not released until a year later in most cases. Also, not every case is online.
4.28.2006 5:14pm
SimonD (www):
Dilan:

I don't like the tenor of these comments, as if the presumption should be that cameras should be kept out. To me, the presumption is the opposite. Proceedings in the Supreme Court are not classified.
You make the same mistake that so many camera advocates make, which is to conflate cameras - live or otherwise - with the court being open to the public. The court is already open to public scrutiny; anyone can attend oral argument, anyone can listen to oral arguments, and anyone can read the court's opinion. People make up these wonderfully empty Tony Kennedy-esque phrases explaining that it is the people's court, and referencing the right of the people to know what the court does, but when it comes right down to it, there is a clear disconnect between wanting openness and wanting cameras. So y'all try to bolster your case by saying that video is more accessable to the ordinary citizen - which is fatal to the credibility of your argument, because it reveals that your argument for cameras isn't that the people have a right to eat, but rather, that they have a right to be spoonfed.

Now, if none of the foregoing were true - if it really was a case of "cameras or nothing", then maybe you'd have a case. but it isn't true, and in fact, there IS a compelling argument against cameras: because it is a trusism that filming an event changes the event. That is, to be sure, a rebuttable presumption, but I think it is very clear that because there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way the court works today, and because there is the danger that cameras could be hugely destructive, that the presumption absolutely ought to be against cameras unless an absolutely compelling case - which, conveniently for me doesn't exist - can be made.
4.28.2006 5:18pm
SimonD (www):
Bruce:
(a) So? I mean, I just don't think that's a big deal. You can do an audio recording of an event without it being intrusive; even if the Justices did not already have microphones, you could stick a PZM under counsel's bench, another on the Justice's bench, and no-one would be any the wiser. Audio recording is unobtrusive. Cameras are not.

(b) That, too, is a good argument for revising the Court's practise vis-a-vis oral argument tapes. Now, as you'll gather from my comments above, I think you and I would disagree on the timing of the release; I think that a live feed is an invitation to abuse, and release prior to the opinion being handed down is just an invitation to armchair quarterbacking that will undermine the legitimacy of the opinions. However, if same day release of audio is the price to be paid to satiate the public's desire (by which, of course, we really mean the legal community's desire) for more direct access to oral argument, I would accept that as the price for keeping the more invasive cameras out of the court.
4.28.2006 5:28pm
dweeb:
Second, I don't trust the public,especially the media, to understand what the legal issues are in a given case.
Does anyone beside me notice the fascist undertones of that statement? On one level, I agree, but then, I don't trust most of the public to understand the economic, foreign policy, and civil liberties issues in any given election, either. Any "casting pearls before swine" argument here is equally applicable to justifying the abolition of democracy and setting up a paternalist oligarchy (and some might say that project is already underway.)
But I also believe that many of the issues considered by the Congress are quite complicated and the presence of cameras forces members to appeal to the lowest common denominator by whittling down substantive issues into sound bite crumbs. I think the devolution of debate in the House and Senate ill-behooves the American people and the legislative system as a whole.
Two comments on this point. First, I think the conduct of Justices Roberts and Alito during their televised confirmation hearings should be some reassurance that there are people of sufficient self discipline to resist temptations to grandstand and pander, especially given the bad example presented to them by the senators they were addressing.
Second, so what if televising DOES invite a descent to the lowest common denominator. The free market, democracy, and most of this nation's founding tenets have been accused of inviting no less. People speak of the US as an experiment in self government, and, along those lines, even if it is destined to drown in a pool of degeneracy, we should let the experiment run to a valid conclusion without deviating to influence the outcome. Thus we should maximize openness of government to the extent that technology enables us - the Supreme Court works for the people, and their bosses should be able to check up on their work. If that furthers the decay of our society, so be it - we'll "go down free rather than stand in chains."
Only because available empirical evidence indicates that the common folk don't want to see certain kinds of information.
That's why their sets come with an 'off' button.
4.28.2006 5:40pm
Mahlon:
Dweeb - You quite intentionally take the comment out of context and cast its proponent as a fascist. I have, over the years, witnessed the media inaccurately portray the nature of legal proceedings time after time. Most of the time, it does so out of ignorance. Other times, there is a certain level of dishonesty at work. In any event, the result is misinformation.

No one is suggesting locking the doors and keeping the unwashed masses at bay. (Tuesday, there was one guy who was literally unwashed. What a mess! He was allowed in the courtroom with the rest of us. So rest at ease.)

If my desire not to televise is elitist, so be it. My fear is that cameras will politicize the judicial process. Such politicization is exactly why federal judges are appointed and serve for life. I do not want to see the branch of government which can still lay some claim to reason and honesty (doubtful as the claim is) be subjected to the intellectual corruption which the idiotbox imbues into all it touches.

You state that we should not "influence the outcome" by not televising. The statement makes no sense. Those who want to televise are the ones seeking to change. As was stated early on, the SCOTUS has managed for over 200 years with being televised.
4.28.2006 6:11pm
ashamed and online:
But what of the narrow self-interest of those of us who have done embarassing things on camera in other courts, and have had the video clips archived for the world to see? Oh, the horror. :-)
4.28.2006 7:59pm
Vorn (mail):
I thought I would respond to a few comments to my post.

SimonD:
"Nor is there anything compellingly broken about the court for which cameras would provide a remedy."

Compellingly broken? That is a ridiculous and artificial standard for determining whether we should have cameras. The standard should be simply this. Would having cameras make oral arguments more accessible? Obviously yes. Would the benefits exceed the costs? Again, obviously yes, because their are no real costs, except those imagined by fearful conservatives.

What are the possible costs?
The Court will become politicized? I don't know what country you live in, but last time I checked, the Court was ALREADY politicized. Not only that, it always has been. From Marbury v. Madison, to Georgia v. Peck, to Dred Scott, to Lochner, to Brown, to Roe v. Wade the Court has been making political decisions. I don't know what sort of illusions those who think otherwise are under.

That courts are at least partially political is an quite clear to anyone with half a brain. Last time I checked, Bush campaigned on appointing judges with certain ideological commitments. Last time I checked, many judges were confirmed on party line votes. To say the courts are not political is to deny reality.

The Courts legitimacy will be questioned? First of all, the Courts legitimacy is questioned all the time, as it should be. It is one branch of government, and its role is hotly contested. Im sorry, but it will not be a disaster for everyday people to discover the truth about the Court, which is that many of its decisions involve a greater or lesser degree of discretion and sometimes makes decisions with political implications.

Basically, what it comes down to is the benefits of cameras obviously exceed the costs. Unless you have you make an irrational or ignorant assessment of the costs. Your standard, that courts must be irretrievable broken before we do anything to make them better is both an arbitrary invention that you just made up and a ridiculous standard. But it illustrates precisely what I mean about conservatives. They tend to erect artificial barriers such as this standard to progress.

SimonD:
"If you're a software engineer, you better than anyone else should be aware of the maxim that if it ain't broke, don't screw with it."

First of all, unless your a software engineer, your not entitled to tell me what maxims I should be aware of. In any case, this "maxim" that you arbitrarily elevate is not followed by software engineers. Software engineers do not merely "fix" things that are broken, they actively create solutions to make these better. And this is in the VERY most important applications possible. I worked in the defense industry, creating software that could mean the difference between life and death. And guess what, we didn't stick to merely "fixing" things but rather created software so that it gave every advantage possible to our side. Obviously, either you are quite (1) ignorant concerning the field of software engineering or (2) are a mediocre software engineer. Since when were software engineers afraid of innovation? I hate to tell you this, but software engineering, at core, is about transforming the world for the better, not merely "fixing" that which is broken.

Mahlon:
"When you have practiced for a while, you will understand why "Courts speak through their journal entries." The spoken word is not nearly as precise as the written one. It is not as easy to interpret and anaylyze. That's why it is written."

First of all, Mahlon, you don't have to be a practicing attorney to comprehend that Courts make written opinions. Obviously, your statement "when you have practiced for a while" is an obvious attempt to devalue my argument and elevate your own rather than engaged the topic on the merits through reasoned discourse. A common strategy for those lacking rational arguments is to attack the speaker rather than engage the idea. I am completely sure that you have learned NOTHING about the importance of court decisions being in writing in practice that I did not already comprehend BEFORE lawschool. If you feel otherwise, I invite you to explain exactly WHAT you have learned in practice.

Second, your reasons for why court decisions are written does not ring true in terms of the historical origins of the practice. The insitution of court reporting arose as means of preserving the decisions of courts. The historical rationale was not the because oral delivery was not "nearly as precise." In fact, the opposite was true. The early Supreme Court decisions in fact were not written by the Justices, but delivered orally and recorded by Alexander Dallas who was justly criticized for being inaccurate, incomplete, and often, very late. So clearly, the transition to written opinions was to facilitate communication, dissemination and preservation of court decisions, rather than gain greater precision.

Third, if modern written decisions are easier to interpret and analyze and are more precise, may I suggest that we retain them? It is pretty obvious that video recording of oral arguments does not conflict with the provision of written opinions, isn't it? It should be. If it isn't obvious to you, then your proof that the bar exam is not a reliable screening mechanism.

Mahlon:
"As a law student, you think video is superior to audio. What a troubling observation. The law is written. It is written for a reason."

First of all, audio, like video, is communication that is not in written form. So, I don't see how your observation that the "law is written" is relevant to whether video is superior to audio. You know, I would think that a practicing attorney would understand the concept of relevance. And I DO think video is superior to audio, because video include audio PLUS visual communication.

Second, their are several excellent reasons that the law is written. But not exactly the reasons you give. More significantly, I have not proposed doing away with written law, but rather having video of oral arguments broadcast in ADDITION to having the law written. As a practicing lawyer, I would hope that you pay better attention to written communication in your practice than you are doing here. I NEVER said that we should do away with written law, or even written transcripts, but rather said "Ideally, I want access to both video AND a transcript."

Mahlon:
"As was stated early on, the SCOTUS has managed for over 200 years with being televised."

This illustrates exactly my point about conservatives who are afraid of change and innovation. This country managed for 200 years without blogs. That doesn't exactly demonstrate that the country would be better off if we did away with this means of communication, now does it?
4.28.2006 8:23pm
Steve:
That doesn't exactly demonstrate that the country would be better off if we did away with this means of communication, now does it?

I would argue that his argument does, in fact, demonstrate that. Maybe not in the way you mean.
4.28.2006 9:22pm
SimonD (www):
Vorn,
I could type up a longwinded reply detailing precisely why you're an idiot, but you obviously aren't going to have your mind changed by anything anyone says to you, and any such endeavour would ultimately boil down to the fact I think you're an idiot, which I think is probably the judgement of most people in this thread about your posts thusfar - so I'll save myself the trouble and just say you're an idiot. Finis.
4.28.2006 11:26pm
Mahlon:
Vorn - Where to start? You seem to be quite the excitable one. I wish I had the time to respond more fully to all of your arguments, but this will have to do. Let me say, however, that I was not attacking you when I prefaced my comments.

1. What have I learned about Courts and written decisions. First, never trust a judge to write down what you thought you heard him say. Bad practice, that. Whenever possible, write it for them. Second, and the reason for my comment, what they say in chambers or in open court, except evidentiary and procedural rulings during trial or hearing, is meaningless. Hence, my assertion that oral argument is just not that important. By the way, I am very impressed that you were so knowledgeable about the law before you arrived at law school. I am a little concerned, however, that you feel you can make any comment about my knowledge as to any topic. Another free bit of practice advice for you. Never make assumptions about anything. It almost never ends well.

2. You question that the written word is not as precise as oral rulings, and yet offer that the practice was adopted because Mr. Dallas was not accurate. Not the strongest evidence to present in support of your point. Nonetheless, I am afraid you got me. I am not a SCOTUS scholar and was unaware of the early practice. I'll have to take your word for it. Yet you miss my point. There is only one reason to write something down - to read it, or have it read, later. Moreover, writing is refined thinking. When you write, you have a chance to remove your thoughts from your mind and examine them in a way that merely "thinking" about them does not provide. Through the process of reducing your thoughts to paper, reading and editing them, you refine them to their purest form. Well, that's what happens if you do it correctly. If not, you must resort to bold letters and ad hominem attacks in an effort to make your point.

3. I'm struggling with this one.

Third, if modern written decisions are easier to interpret and analyze and are more precise, may I suggest that we retain them? It is pretty obvious that video recording of oral arguments does not conflict with the provision of written opinions, isn't it? It should be. If it isn't obvious to you, then your proof that the bar exam is not a reliable screening mechanism.

No idea what you're trying to convey with this one. See 2. above and work on your writing skills.

4. I'm sorry. I should have read your words a bit more literally. I agree with you, then. Video is superior to audio. I guess it was simply your initial comment that wasn't relevant in the first place. My fear in reading your comment was that you were giving some weight to oral argument that you shouldn't, such that you would be able to see some mysteries of the law through watching argument. My point has been that you can't, and that argument is generally not relevant to deciding the case. Hence, little good comes from televising.

5. See 4 above. Also see 2 above as to the only reason to write anything down. But I must add that I am now very concerned about your schooling. You state that you want to retain written law and then restate it by saying you want video and a written transcript of argument, as if argument is some sort of law. This is my point. Argument, whether live, on a video or audio tape, or transcribed, is not law. It's not relevant and it doesn't provide insight to the workings of the judiciary.

6. I am not afraid of change. I like new technologies and incorporate them into my practice as much as I can. But always to a purpose. I do not embrace change for its own sake.

7. I love the way you start your rant by accusing me of personal attacks, by claiming to possess the moral high-ground and then end by labeling me and attacking me, not individually, but as member of a group. Of course, you don't know whether I am a conservative or not. My guess is that you make that assumption because my views do not your own.

Vorn - I did not mean my prefacing comment to be disparaging. It apparently was and for that I apologize. If my following remarks offend you, however, I do not apologize. You argue quite vigorously and passionately, for which you should be commended. But I caution you to put away that chip that is lurking on your shoulder. Do not allow passion to rule you in the law. It has its place, and is indeed a necessary tool, but it is like a drug. Allowed to rage unchecked, it will interfere with reasoned anaylsis. If you are offended that I am lecturing you, tough. Practicing law is not like law school. Knowledge is not skill. I was like you, once. You will learn.
4.28.2006 11:58pm
Mahlon:
SimonD - Shame on you. I am sure that there was once a time when you knew all of the mysteries of the universe. I do not like to see anyone debase themselves by resorting to such attacks, no matter how valid they may be. Apologize immediately.
4.29.2006 12:01am
Lev:
What needs to be enabled is mandatory retirement at age 75 or 25 years on the court, whichever occurs first.

The Supreme Court does enough damage to its own credibility by the decisions it makes, without having the stupid press do even more by excerpting hot sound bites.

Audio only.
4.29.2006 12:33am
dweeb:
Mahlon,
<i>You quite intentionally take the comment out of context and cast its proponent as a fascist.</i>

No, I pointed out that there is a fascist undertone that shouldn't be ignored. I didn't call you or anyone a fascist. The thinking that the common man must be protected, insulated, guided, etc. is a fascist tendency that rears its ugly head in all intelligent, educated people from time to time. I'm often guilty of it myself. It needs to be restrained.

<i> I have, over the years, witnessed the media inaccurately portray the nature of legal proceedings time after time. Most of the time, it does so out of ignorance. Other times, there is a certain level of dishonesty at work. In any event, the result is misinformation.</i>

Oh please. The media can certainly distort far more readily when they get to filter the quotes they repeat to the public. Video coverage, unedited and in its entirety only limits their ability to distort the proceedings.

<i>No one is suggesting locking the doors and keeping the unwashed masses at bay. (Tuesday, there was one guy who was literally unwashed. What a mess! He was allowed in the courtroom with the rest of us. So rest at ease.)</i>
Actually that's exactly what you're suggesting. SCOTUS sits at the Eastern edge of a continent spanning nation. The vast majority of Americans cannot run to DC every time a case of interest comes up. Even if they could, the physical limits of the building mean not all who may want to can attend. If I can sit in the gallery, then there is no good reason I shouldn't have the same opportunity without the travel and missed work, if the technology makes it possible.

<i>If my desire not to televise is elitist, so be it.</i>

Then just be honest and consistent and oppose voting rights for anyone but wealthy landowners, the way the Founders intended it. You have alluded to being an attorney, which explains your elitism. The first three words of the Constitution are not "We the Lawyers."

<i>You state that we should not "influence the outcome" by not televising. The statement makes no sense. Those who want to televise are the ones seeking to change.</i>

You are being intentionally obtuse. The 'outcome' is the outcome of the experiment of government by, of, and for the people. Televising is not a change in conformance to those principles, only in the means available to maximize that conformance. To not allow the maximum transparency technology avails is the actual change in principle, the deviation from the design of the experiment. If the outcome of TRUE self government, which includes the maximum oversight by the governed that is practicable, is a descent into degeneracy, so be it.
The collapse of the USSR made the bankruptcy of Marxism obvious. In China, another example is being blurred by their blending of capitalism with tyranny, which will allow some observers to conclude communism isn't so bad after all. If the principles of our founding are not all they're cracked up to be, we owe it to humanity to let our example be unambiguous, and the lesson not to be clouded by distortions to the PRINCIPLES (as opposed to minutiae of execution) of the original game plan.
4.29.2006 5:52am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Yeah, baseball was much better when it was broadcast over telegraph with operators moving figures of players on the scoreboard to dramatize what just happened.


Or it could just be that the sort of atmosphere that is created by televising a professional sporting event is not the sort of atmosphere that is desirable in a judicial proceeding.
4.29.2006 11:43pm
Mahlon:
Vorn - SimonD was right. But enough of that. You were tedious yesterday. Today, and probably for the rest of your life, you will reap the the benefits of your own thinking. And I am sure you will be quite happy with that. A poorer person for it, but blissfully ignorant.

Next time, before you use the word "fascist," do yourself and everyone else a favor - know what it means. That's why God made dictionaries.
4.30.2006 1:19am
Jam (mail):
Fear. All we have left is fear in these uS. Maybe seeing the broadcast of SCOTUS proceedings will show what a bunch of idiots we have beatified. We must protect the reputation of the Court.
4.30.2006 9:42am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Bruce:

On the C-SPAN point, my impression is that less and less serious business was taking place on the floor of the chambers well before C-SPAN. If anything, the cameras might be responsible for the preservation of some semblance of floor debate. To the extent there's a problem, I don't think it's inherent with cameras. Question Time in Parliament is televised, and still seems relatively erudite.

While I would intuitively disagree with this, it's not a condition that should be discounted offhand.

Brennan:

The status quo is that everybody has the same access: live attendance (somewhat hard to get and therefore plausibly somewhat elitist), audio-only recordings via the internet (not elitist), written transcripts (not elitist), and media accounts (not elitist).

If these "media accounts" are to be first-hand, as space within the Court's gallery is finite, they are necessarily elitist as well.

Oh, and on the matter of Thomas and Ginsberg, I think Lincoln said it best: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." :)
4.30.2006 1:14pm
Peter Wimsey:
Perhaps the oral arguments could be webcast in a resolution not high enough for display on television. This would make the arguments widely available to anyone who was actually interested, and perhaps avoid the irresponsible broadcast of televised feed that our lazy sound-bite journalists would inevitably make.

At least until they discover how generally uninteresting oral arguments are to people who haven't read the lower court opinion, the briefs, and the relevant cases. When my state supreme court permitted televising oral arguments several years ago, local tv stations initially eagerly participated and used some of the resulting film during nightly newscasts. This soon ceased, however, when they discovered how undramatic oral arguments are - they hoped, I think, that an oral argument would have a dramatic recitation of the lurid facts of a death penalty case; what they got, of course, was a fifteen minute discussion of the prejudice prong of Strickland, along with such exciting highlights as "Your Honor, I believe that discussion is on page 1560 of the record, following the sidebar."

Perhaps a year after the case comes out, the argument could be made available on higher quality video.
4.30.2006 1:41pm
Jam (mail):
What a bunch of lame excuses to keep the cameras out of the SCOTUS' proceedings. But what do I know? I am not a lawyer.

Could it be that, as some seem to imply, that if us, common folks, see what really goes on during a SCOTUS Oral Argument we will find out that it is all tradition and pro forma? Do we really think that any of the Judges makes/changes his mind on a case?

Why allowing reporters during the Oral Arguments, that then publicize their report, not enable grandstanding by the Judges? What about the reporters biases that then go into his reporting?

How about releasing the transcript? Any different in enabling the Judges to grandstand?

Maybe all we should have is the actual case disposition and the opinions? I doubt that anybody here arguing against the cameras are against releasing the transcripts.

Grandstanding by Senators and Congressmen existed even before the cameras were allowed.

I want the cameras in the SCOTUS. If a Judge cannot control himself then he lacks the "judicial temperament" to sit at the court - any court.

Let public circus begin.
4.30.2006 2:04pm
Jam (mail):
Let public circus begin. As opposed to the private circus.
4.30.2006 2:07pm