As the nation waits for Monday—the final scheduled day for key Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, affirmative action and voting rights—there’s a new, bipartisan move to televise court proceedings.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley have introduced a bill that would require all open high court sessions to be televised, unless a majority of justices agree that cameras would violate the rights of those arguing a case.
In a statement, Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the move brings “accountability, transparency and openness.”
Back in March, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer both expressed their concerns before a House subcommittee.
“There would be considerable reluctance to introduce a dynamic where I would have the instinct that one of my colleagues asked a question because we’re on television,” said Kennedy. “I just don’t want that insidious dynamic.”
Breyer agreed. “The first time you see on prime time television somebody taking a picture of you and really using it in a way that you think is completely unfair and misses your point in order to caricature what you’re trying to do because they don’t believe in the side they think you’re coming from, the first time you see that, the next day you’ll watch a lot more carefully what you say.”
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams told Jansing & Co. that all justices seem unified in their opposition, including the two most recent appointees to the court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
“Both said during their confirmation hearings that they might be inclined to support cameras in the Supreme Court,” said Williams. “They’ve since changed their minds after they got there.”
Scotusblog publisher and co-founder Tom Goldstein has argued more than two dozen cases before the Supreme Court. He said the facts don’t back up the justices’ concerns about cameras in the court.
“There are state supreme courts, there are foreign supreme courts that have been doing this and their reports are all really positive–that people do tune in occasionally, they watch it and they have greater faith in the judges and justices, not less.”
Could televised proceedings lead to showboating lawyers? Not a chance, said Goldstein.
“If we get up there and grandstand, we’re going to get slapped down so hard so fast that we’re going to be embarrassed. And that’s the last thing in the world we want.”
Lawmakers have been pushing for cameras in the Supreme Court since at least 1999. Williams said he doesn’t expect to see televised court proceedings in his lifetime. But if this latest attempt succeeds, he said it could lead to a constitutional showdown.
“You get into a separation of powers question here, whether the Supreme Court can be ordered to install cameras by the Congress or whether as an independent branch, the Congress can’t tell the Supreme Court what to do anymore than the Supreme Court could issue a ruling forcing Congress to put cameras in the House and Senate, which of course they chose to do on their own.”