Supreme Court TV can­celled Tele­vised ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ings would ed­u­cate and en­sure trans­parency

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

The Supreme Court on Wed­nes­day will wrap up its third day of oral ar­gu­ments on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Oba­macare. Only a rel­a­tive hand­ful will have the priv­i­lege of wit­ness­ing this his­toric de­bate, as the high court re­fuses to al­low its pro­ceed­ings to be broad­cast on tele­vi­sion.

In 1979, C-SPAN opened the in­ner work­ings of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and later the Se­nate to the viewing public. It could do the same for the ju­di­cial branch. Nearly three-quar­ters of the public sup­ports the con­cept, ac­cord­ing to a Gallup poll. But the idea gets mixed re­views on Capi­tol Hill. Tele­vis­ing court pro­ceed­ings is a rare is­sue in Congress that seems to split more along lines of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence than party. Lawyers gen­er­ally op­pose it be­cause they want to hold on to tra­di­tion. Those in fa­vor of the change want in­creased trans­parency.

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, a non­lawyer and rank­ing mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, has been fight­ing for a decade to open all fed­eral courts to public scru­tiny through broad­cast. The Iowa Re­pub­li­can went to ob­serve the oral ar­gu­ments him­self on Tues­day. “I was sit­ting there with 250 other peo­ple watch­ing, and I thought it was too bad that mil­lions couldn’t watch it,” he told The Washington Times in an in­ter­view. “This is one of the most im­por­tant cases in the last 50 years, and tele­vised pro­ceed­ings could ed­u­cate peo­ple not just on this is­sue, but on a main branch of gov­ern­ment.” Mr. Grass­ley au­thored a bill that would re­quire the Supreme Court to al­low cov­er­age of all open ses­sions. The only ex­cep­tion would be on an oc­ca­sion in which a ma­jor­ity of the jus­tices vote that do­ing so might vi­o­late due process rights of one of the par­ties.

De­spite the public sup­port, there doesn’t seem to be the po­lit­i­cal will on Capi­tol Hill to press the is­sue. The Se­nate bill passed the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in Fe­bru­ary with about an equal num­ber of Repub­li­cans and Democrats on both sides of the vote. Asked about tim­ing for a floor vote, Mr. Grass­ley said he can’t do much in the mi­nor­ity, “but some­one like [Sen. Charles E.] Schumer could force it to the floor.” The Washington Times asked Mr. Schumer, a mem­ber of lead­er­ship and co-spon­sor of the bill, if it could get a vote this year. “I don’t think so,” said the New York Demo­crat. “No.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell, a lawyer, wants the courts to stay the same. “I agree with the chief jus­tice and oth­ers that we don’t want to turn the Supreme Court into a cir­cus,” the Ken­tucky Re­pub­li­can told The Washington Times on Tues­day. “I don’t think given the con­tro­ver­sial na­ture of the sub­jects they deal with, hav­ing their faces fa­mil­iar to ev­ery­one is nec­es­sary for the jus­tices. I am strongly op­posed to it.”

Chief Jus­tice John Roberts has not ruled out al­low­ing cam­eras in his court, but so far he has only al­lowed au­dio record­ing of pro­ceed­ings. A ma­jor­ity of jus­tices are op­posed. The court’s new­est mem­bers, Jus­tices Elena Ka­gan and So­nia So­tomayor, are the big­gest pro­po­nents. Jus­tices Clarence Thomas, An­thony Kennedy and An­tonin Scalia hold the strong­est views against the cam­eras, pri­mar­ily be­cause they fear it will turn the se­ri­ous pro­ceed­ings into silly en­ter­tain­ment. As the third branch of gov­ern­ment, the court’s work­ings ought to be fully open so that the public can keep an eye on these life­time ap­point­ments.

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