Supreme Court on right track

North Penn Life - - OPINION -

A wel­come news re­lease from our state’s high court reads: “The Supreme Court of Penn­syl­va­nia ... an­nounced that its en­tire Sept. 13 oral ar­gu­ment ses­sion, which in­cludes hear­ings on the state’s sec­ond leg­isla­tive re­dis­trict­ing plan and the voter ID law, will be tele­vised live on the Penn­syl­va­nia Ca­ble Net­work (PCN). The hear­ings are be­ing held in the court’s Philadel­phia City Hall court­room.

“Oral ar­gu­ments will be­gin at 9:3M a.m. in the Supreme Court’s Philadel­phia court­room, room 456 of City Hall. Strict deco­rum will be ob­served. Be­cause of lim­ited seat­ing, obVHUYHUV wLOO EH DdPLWWHd Rn D fiUVW FRPH, fiUVW VHUYHd EDVLV. Once the court­room is full, those not ad­mit­ted may wait in line to take a seat as those who were seated leave. The ses­sions held on the 11th and 12th will be taped for fu­ture air­ing by PCN.” That’s an ex­cel­lent move on the part of the Supreme Court. Leg­isla­tive re­dis­trict­ing and soter ID are of in­tense in­ter­est to state cit­i­zens — at least to those politi­cially en­gaged.

Peo­ple who can’t per­son­ally at­tend the court pro­ceed­ings — most of us — should be able to tune in and hear the at­tor­neys’ ar­gu­ments and the jus­tices’ ques­tions on mat­ters that will fun­da­men­tally af­fect civic life in Penn­syl­va­nia.

The high court de­serves credit for giv­ing us that op­por­tu­nity via PCN — Penn­syl­va­nia’s ver­sion of C-Span. The pub­lic in­ter­est ca­ble net­work does a pro­fes­sional, sober job of bring­ing such do­ings of gov­ern­ment to po­lit­i­cal junkies statewide. It was a nat­u­ral choice to tele­vise the pro­ceed­ings.

In fact, the high court de­serves credit for its over­all trend to­ward open­ness. Af­ter years of re­fus­ing to al­low cam­eras in the court, it is slowly dis­man­tling its wall of sep­a­ra­tion from the pub­lic. The court al­lowed a pre­vi­ous ses­sion on the re­dis­trict­ing plan to be tele­vised, and it has al­lowed broad­cast­ing of se­lected other ses­sions.

Now it’s time to speed up the dis­man­tling of that wall. In fact, re­move it. Al­low cam­eras in the court­room for all high court pro­ceed­ings — as well as pro­ceed­ings in lower court (ex­cept, per­haps, in cases where there are good rea­sons not to al­low cam­eras).

Like­wise, the high court should al­low jour­nal­ists to re­port from the court­room us­ing so­cial me­dia such as Twit­ter.

A high court rules com­mit­tee re­cently stated that such re­port­ing is akin to broad­cast­ing and thus not al­lowed in court­rooms. Nonethe­less, some judges are al­low­ing the prac­tice. That in­cludes York County Pres­i­dent gudge Stephen Linebaugh.

But other judges in other ju­ris­dic­tions do not al­low such in­stan­ta­neous re­port­ing. It was not al­lowed in the trial of for­mer Demo­cratic state oep. Stephen Stetler for pub­lic cor­rup­tion. It was not al­lowed in the San­dusky case — though the judge WKHUH FOHDUOy wDnWHd WR find D wDy WR DOORw LW Dnd VWLOO DELdH Ey the high court’s wishes.

The point is, if our high court is go­ing to al­low cam­eras in the court­room, it shouldn’t pick and choose which ses­sions to open. It should broadly al­low the prac­tice — with very lim­ited ex­cep­tions. And it should open the courts to the new world of so­cial me­dia re­port­ing.

The court is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion with these PCN broad­casts, but it’s mov­ing too slowly.

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