Traverse City Record-Eagle


July 27, 2013

Another View: Transparency needed on Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court makes landmark decisions on a regular basis, from ending racial segregation to a 2000 decision in which they essentially picked the president of the United States.

Yet, for most Americans, this group of non-elected, lifetime appointees operate in a relative veil of secrecy. That’s why it’s time for the justices to allow cameras in the courtroom during oral arguments, or for Congress to move ahead with legislation opening the doors to it.

A prohibition on cameras or audio broadcasting from the courtroom went in place in 1946. In 1999, when Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced legislation that would have allowed cameras into Supreme Court proceedings, the court acquiesced a bit by beginning to release audio of oral arguments, but only after arguments concluded.

Grassley, a Republican, and Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, according to the Chicago Tribune “recently introduced legislation that would require all open court sessions to be televised unless a majority of justices find that cameras would violate the due process rights of a party or parties in a case.”

Nearly all court sessions are open to the public, but only a handful of spectators can attend. In this age of nearly instantaneous transfers of information, the momentous decisions made by the court are released in a plodding and confusing manner. After decisions are printed, staffers of news operations gather the decisions and sprint to reporters who try to decipher complicated rulings and get the news to the public. The process sometimes leads to embarrassing results, such as when CNN erroneously reported the outcome of the Affordable Care Act case.

Going by their past statements, the Justices are currently split 4-3 towards not allowing cameras, with two who haven’t publicly voiced an opinion.

Justices arguing against cameras generally cite concerns that it could spur grandstanding by justices. But in the growing number of states that have allowed video cameras to broadcast proceedings, that hasn’t been the case. In the recent broadcast of the George Zimmerman trial, the judge and lawyers didn’t play to the camera. Instead, those who cared to watch the gavel-to-gavel coverage were given a good education on the workings of a trial.

Legal scholars see no Constitutional reason why Congress could not force the high court to televise its public proceedings, but it would be better if the Justices changed the rules themselves.

The public should have the right to see how their Supreme Court makes decisions, without having to rely on proceedings to be filtered by others.

— The Mankato (Minn.) Free Press

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