Should the US Supeme Court Allow Video Cameras?

Can Congress Force Supreme Court to let in Cameras?

The pro forces are getting stronger, and suggesting that Congress should pass a law requiring SCOTUS to allow video. While that would bust the sanctity of the Court’s internal procedures, the question remains.

Democracy requires open government, and written transcripts and audio recordings are not enough when far better technology is available.

I think it’s time to start rolling.

The “no” argument is that the video will inevitably be boiled into soundbites, taken out of context, or simply played for an audience without the necessary background to understand them, and therefore used to make the Court look silly by the cable media. This will force the Court to adapt oral argument for the purpose of making themselves look good in the media or risking harm to the reputation of the institution. Given that the audio of arguments is already available, the only thing to be gained is making the medium easier to sensationalize for a general audience.

The “yes” argument is that you don’t reach the general public without video, and the general public already doubt that the Court is a serious deliberative body more removed from political concerns than Congress. The video clips allow the public to see that oral argument involves serious intellectual argument, at least as compared to Congressional hearings.

I think the “no” argument has it. The last thing we need is for oral argument to become more like congressional hearings.

Would it be constitutional for Congress to require cameras in SCOTUS hearings? I guess we’d have to see what the SCOTUS had to say about that. :slight_smile:

This is a tough one for me. I dislike the aloofness that surrounds the SCOTUS, but I’ve seen what happens to Congressional hearings that are shown on TV. I would tend to err on the side of openness, though, so I’d say yes.

What about showing the videos 5 years after the case has been decided?


Allow cameras. We don’t need some elitist bastards making decisions for our legal system.
County and state judges should be video taped and ridiculed in the media as well. If they are truly dedicated to do right, they should not be concerned with their image.

Why? That would remove one of the more compelling reasons to have cameras – the live coverage.

I’m not convinced by the argument that the people need to be protected from possible negative portrayals of the SCOTUS in the media.

It would give them some incentive to appear truly fair and not a bunch of pals.

NPR already reports on their discussions. How much does Nina Totenberg (sp) get to see?

Do you doubt that cameras will have the consequence the Justices fear, or do you think that consequence is outweighed by some benefit, or both?

Every person is welcome to go see the arguments in person.

But to they make the decision “In Chambers”, drink coffee and giggle? :slight_smile:

The wiki article is pretty good on the basics of how the Court functions:

On decisionmaking:

To my knowledge, no Court that has such conferences makes them open to the public. The law regards judicial decision-making as private. Judges cannot be subpoenad to testify about why they made some decision, even when that question is relevant to a criminal case.

That fellates with great alacrity.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

The theory is that judges on the Supreme Court give their reasons why they made their decision in writing. What more are you going to get if you subpoena them? “I didn’t really make the decision because of stare decisis: I made it because I hated appellant’s counsel when were at law school together, and I went to some nice cocktail parties hosted by the respondent.” Even if it were true, would they say that?

If they obey the law one would presume so.

This worked in 1780 when there were slaves in the United States, but this secret, elite, privileged attitude is too much like a rich boss making a decision about my job in the 21st century.

I am not American nor have I ever been to the Supreme Court of the US, but I am a lawyer, and I have been to Courts of Last Resort of several jurisdictions. In my opinion its a bad idea for the following several reasons

  1. SCOTUS cases, like those of other ultimate Courts of Appeal are usually on the interpretation of fairly arcane points of law; it is I assure quite dull and indeed it can be hard to stay awake at times. Not exactly riveting television. There are no witnesses, no Defendants, just Counsel at the dias arguing before the bench.

  2. I do not think that the “claims that the Court makes its decision in secret” to be maintainable. All documents submitted to the Court are public record; with one or two exceptions, the oral hearings are open for everyone to see, the Court decision is made on the basis of those two and the law. I really cannot understand how anyone would think that these would be tainted by “secrecy”.

  3. Opening up cameras risks making the while process theater as opposed to a High Forum of law as the Court actually is.

  4. Finally as a Court with discretionary jurisdiction, I think Cameras may influence the Court to take cases of Public Interest as opposed to public importance. The triple rape/murder where the conviction was upheld by all Courts below and there is no law point raised will be preferred over the case which turns on the interpretation of Section XYZ of the Income Tax Act where the Courts below have massively differed in interpretation.

What secret? The court’s open to anyone who wants to show up. The transcripts are available to anyone who wants one. What information do you think is being withheld, here?

I would allow the oral arguments by counsel to be broadcast, perhaps with the provision that they must be shown complete and unedited. Such arguments are going to largely track the points raised in the briefs, which are already public record.

I would not allow the actual deliberations of the Court to be taped. The Court speaks through it’s written decisions.

No; Supreme Court is the highest court in the land; let’s not turn it into a media circus.