MILLER: Supreme Court TV cancelled

Televised judicial proceedings would educate and ensure transparency

Question of the Day

Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

View results

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.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts