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April 24, 2009

"House Members Push Supreme Court Toward Transparency"

The title of this post is the title of this great new piece by Tony Mauro in the Legal Times. Here are excerpts:

The annual House hearing called to consider the Supreme Court's budget request began with its usual rituals Thursday morning.... But then a Texas congressman decided to test just how well the justices were listening and whether they would take his heartfelt message to heart -- a strong plea to the Court to ramp up its transparency and public face....

The provocateur was conservative Rep. John Culberson, R-Tex ... [who was] urging the Court to go to the next level of transparency. The justices had already talked about the occasional release of oral argument audio tapes, and of plans for an improved Web site. Culberson said there would be "no logical distinction" between what the Court has already done, and streaming the video of oral argument on the Court's Web site Suddenly, dressed in high-tech clothes, the old debate over cameras in the Supreme Court had been resurrected.

"It's a very easy matter on the Internet," Culberson said, and to prove it, he took out a device, aimed at the justices and announced that at that very moment, their visages were being seen live on the Internet. (Culberson's video is available at this link.)  The justices were startled, but smiled for the camera....

"The next American revolution is going to come through the Internet," Culberson told the justices. "I encourage you to break down that wall. It's as easy as pushing this button."...

The justices retreated into their usual arguments against camera access.  As he often does, Breyer said the current members of the Court are just temporary stewards of a cherished institution who don't want to damage it in anyway.  Before deciding if the gains are worth the risk, Breyer said "social science research" is needed.  Later, Culberson implored Breyer and Thomas, "Don't wait for the social science research. Trust your hearts."...

Will Thursday's impassioned display of pro-cameras sentiment in Congress make a difference?  Thomas had said that the appropriations committee's views had spurred Supreme Court action on improving technology over the years.  Thomas and Breyer must have left the hearing feeling the momentum on cameras coming from Congress and from technology was heading strongly toward openness.  If the Court eventually, finally, says yes sometime in this century, Thursday's hearing of the financial services and general government subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will have played a significant part.

April 24, 2009 at 08:46 AM | Permalink


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Bully for John Culberson! I couldn't agree more. There's no good reason why not.

Perhaps Justice Breyer is worried about YouTube video spreading of him trying to justify strip searching a 13-year old girl to look for ibuprofen with babbling recollections of fellow schoolchildren putting things in his underwear during his youth.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 24, 2009 9:08:25 AM

I actually agree with the justices on this one. I do think there is a certain mystique to the court that should be maintained. I think the technological argument is bogus. Just because something is easy to do doesn't mean it should be done. As the center of democratic power in DC, Congress should have it's image broadcast day and night. But I don't think the court should. And if it should, why stop there. Why shouldn't the president have his cabinet meetings broadcast. What about his National Security briefing. And if you say no to either of those, then the disagreement is simply where to draw the line. And I can't think of a single good reason why the court should have its meetings broadcast.

As I like to say, people wear clothes for a reason. And I find this desire to strip search everything rather distasteful. Perhaps in this area at least I show more consistency than Justice Breyer.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 24, 2009 10:02:02 AM

This is an area I actually think should start from the bottom. It would be far more useful to my mind if district court proceedings were recorded./broadcast, especially without sidebar removed. The current rules forbid a district court from doing so even if the judge so desires. SCOTUS does little enough work that I don't see broadcast as nearly as big an issue, especially given that the court makes no important spontaneous decisions.

I find it especially troublesome that we still rely on written transcripts to provide the best record of what happened when it is fully admitted that a great deal of nuance is lost. I believe that the record should be in the media that provides the highest fidelety at a reasonable cost. When technology proceeds to a point where solid objects can be recorded in real time I would say that would be the media that the record should be kept in.

As for the President, I believe every official action of every elected official should be recorded. Whether broadcast/availability of all those recordings should be available is a different matter but the default should be that they are available. I would include everything that happens in a congresscritters' office as well.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 24, 2009 10:26:36 AM

For the drama and ratings, Nancy Grace should host. They could cut to a commercial every time Justice Breyer asks a question and every time Justice Scalia asks a question, it could be a voice over of a reenactment.

In other words, why not allow the free market and free speech to take the SCOTUS to the lowest common denominator as it has so many other court proceedings?

Posted by: George | Apr 24, 2009 11:15:53 AM

Add another entry to the list of reasons Justice Souter will likely be tendering his resignation soon....

Posted by: anon attorney | Apr 24, 2009 2:44:00 PM

Daniel, cabinet meetings and National Security briefings aren't public meetings. We're talking here about streaming video of OPEN court.

As far as "a certain mystique"? They don't deserve it. They're doing the people's business and there's no reason they can't submit themselves to the same level of scrutiny as millions of employees whose employers put cameras in the workplace.

As one of them seems to assert with every new case gutting the 4th Amendment, if they don't have anything to hide they'll have nothing to fear. And it wouldn't bother me if any who don't like it follow Souter out the door.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 25, 2009 7:57:37 AM

These weasels, coming hat in hand, begging for more money, are the cappi di tutti cappi of the criminal cult enterprise. They need to be defunded. Cameras focusing on the signs of early Alzheimer's Disease should be permitted to monitor these dementocrats and broadcast to the world. Napping by judges are reversible error, except, there is no court. Such depictions of napping should go to Congress for impeachment proceedings.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2009 12:21:07 PM

If cameras are allowed during oral arguments everyone will be able to see J. Thomas sleeping. That could explain the opposition.

Posted by: Luke Steiner | Apr 28, 2009 4:51:56 PM

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