Why We Need Cameras in the Supreme Court

House Resolution 464, the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, is the most recent effort to bring cameras into the Supreme Court. Recently, the legislation moved to the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet where it is likely to die. However, the idea of this bill potentially passing is important. Such legislation would wildly affect media organizations which, historically, have had very little direct interaction with the nation’s highest court.

While it’s important to consider whether the bill will pass, the more important point is that allowing cameras in the Supreme Court would strengthen the bond between media and the judicial branch in a way that would benefit the American people.

This is not a new issue; the media has always had less access to the judicial branch than to the other branches of government. For criminal cases, this makes sense, as judges and juries worry that camera coverage could intimidate witnesses or give juries unfair biases about the case; yet, those very same cases are often ones that remain televised.

The same case cannot be made for Supreme Court decisions, however, which lack juries.  

Common arguments made against placing cameras in the courtroom relate to protecting the judges’ anonymity and keeping them out of the view of the public (which seems highly contradictory when justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg make public appearances at colleges). Some justices, like retired Justice David Souter, often refused to entertain the idea of media access to the courtroom at all; and, when asked about it said, “over my dead body.”

Right now approval of the Supreme Court is down because many don’t like that the court is so inaccessible. People want to know what’s happening. Camera coverage would certainly increase favorability.

Additionally, the fear that cameras would make the Supreme Court more partisan is largely unfounded. Justices are already nominated by presidents based on their ideological views and either confirmed or denied by the Senate based on those views and what party holds the majority.  But, landmark decisions like the approval of Obamacare with the help of Republican-nominated Justice John Roberts, demonstrate that justices are not always partisan players. Their life terms and independence give them to the power to be what most Americans wish politicians were moderates with the genuine goal of helping the American people. Cameras in the courts wouldn’t change that.

Former Justice Antonin Scalia said he did not want cameras in the court because, “The network news…will be uncharacteristic of what the court does.” His sentiment showed a antiquated distrust of the media by the political elite.

In Trump’s America, however, it has become increasingly important to show that government officials can work with media in a productive way.

Cameras in the Supreme Court are a good first step.

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