U.S. Supreme Court: Court is Agent of the Public; Its Proceedings Must Be Published as Widely as Possible

Video of oral arguments may be too much; audio recordings and transcripts are necessary.

Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, argues that cameras should not be permitted in the Supreme Court. He appears to have three concerns (based on his experience from broadcast television):

  • Video cameras capturing activity during oral argument would not be good because people would be able to view the body positioning of the justices as they listened to the oral arguments.
  • Video cameras would take away from the sober deliberation of issues.
  • The result of video coverage of Congress had a bad result. [Supreme Court is a different branch of government, plus the justices do not run for election. In addition, I do not think Congress’s problems came from the C-Span cameras.]

While I can grudgingly see the point about video cameras (although I think fixed-camera coverage by C-Span would serve the public well), I do not agree that the Supreme Court should be an opaque and elite institution, speaking only through its published written opinions to a relative few attorneys and parties (according to Pincus, there are only 400 seats in the courtroom (U.S. population 308,745,538 2010 Census ). The Court’s decisions affect the whole nation, and thus the Court must be accessible to all citizens.

The release of audio recordings and transcripts shortly after the conclusion of the oral arguments seems to be a good compromise and should definitely continue. The Supreme Court is an agency of the citizenry of the United States, and thus is accountable to the citizenry to handle controversies fairly. Hidden activity encourages an idea that the Supreme Court derives its power solely from its past decisions alone. However, the Constitution was written at time that did not contemplate television, the Internet, cars, gasoline, electricity, and numerous other elements of 21st century life. So, the Court must be able to integrate these changes into its deliberations. One of those ways is to ensure that the public is able to hear or read the inputs into its decision making (that is, oral arguments).