I wrote this piece some time ago but never got around to posting it. However, given the fact that so many people were interested in the workings of the Supreme Court when I blogged about that last week, it seemed especially relevant. Lots of people apparently want and need information about the Supreme Court so that they can weigh in on what they think about the work that goes on there.
The fact is that thousands of people read my little old post about the Supreme Court, but only 500 or so of them would ever be able to actually see the Court in action, and they would have had to travel to Washington D.C. and wait in line for days to be able to be there. In today’s world of instant video coverage and tweeting from accident scenes, that just seems wrong. It is at least out of keeping with the times.
I realize that watching the Supreme Court on TV is not exactly a red-hot blog topic. The issue of why the Supreme Court arguments are not broadcast for the public to view may be more boring than cops shooting people or Jihadi terrorists or kids being harassed by creeps in parks, but it is at least as important. More so really.
Why does the highest court in our land continue to refuse to allow cameras into their courtroom?
What gives? What makes them so different than the Kardashians and Amish Gangsters and idiots jumping off of houses? Well, strike that. Silly question, I know. But you get my point. You can see just about anything on TV, so why not the most important court in the land?
Seems to me that in a free society we should all get a chance to see our wheels of justice spinning at the ultimate level. Why on earth shouldn’t we? Is it that we are not to be trusted forming our own opinions after we see how the process actually works? What gives them the right to deny us access anyway? We own the building, after all, not them. How come they get to freeze us out?
Ostensibly, one reason has to do with wanting to prevent showboating by the Justices that might occur if they knew they were going to be televised. That argument makes about as much sense as sitting around all day watching the Kardashians parade in front of cameras doing nothing. But we are not talking about watching a bunch of dull D Grade bad actors; we are talking about the court that can potentially profoundly impact our lives. Surely the justices can avoid falling into the Kardashian “look at me” mindlessness vacuum. They actually have jobs and do work. That is what we want to watch, not grandstanding.
We should be able to see them working, which begs the issue: we can already hear them. How could it possibly change things if we can see them too? Are they worried about their hair? Let’s face it. It might actually lead to more citizens having a clue about how our government actually works (or not). People tend to watch TV more than they read convoluted written opinions. At least they would have some clue about how the justices arrive at their conclusions.
Maybe THAT is what they are afraid of. I suspect so. Especially for the ones like Clarence Thomas, who, without cameras in the room, can more easily hide the fact that he has scarcely uttered an intelligent word during oral argument sessions in almost 25 years (if ever). Harder to see that when all we have is audio recordings. The sight of him over there reading his comics, or whatever it is he does, might get some people’s attention. They might think twice before supporting a nominee who would rather be in his office watching Kim and Chloe prance around than doing his job.
As for showboating: Scalia anyone? Heard of him? Look up self promoting egoist in the Dictionary and there’s his photo. It is interesting that in his dissent to Justice Kennedy’s opinion in the recent Gay Marriage case Scalia said, “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag.”
What makes this quote so interesting is that Scalia is already hiding. He is hiding from the public and their close scrutiny, not of what he writes (or I should say what his clerks write for him to embellish), but rather of how the court actually conducts business. What has he got to hide?
When questioned about this Scalia said he thought only C-Span junkies would want to watch. So? Let them.
Kennedy said that he thought an “insidious dynamic” might be created, in which justices might be “saying something for a sound bite” or ask questions “to grab a headline.” Can he read? For example, some of the Scalia’s quotes about him? Like needing to put a bag over his head if he wrote like Kennedy? Is a comment like that any less likely to create an “insidious dynamic” or “grab a headline” because it was not videotaped? They are already nasty to each other. Video is not going to make it worse.
Scalia attacked Kennedy personally in his dissent on the Gay Marriage case: “The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”
It is difficult to imagine how Scalia could engage in any more grandstanding or cause any more of an insidious dynamic. If I tried to talk like that in a public courtroom the prosecutors would move to hold me in contempt and I’d probably draw a bar complaint. So, having them video taped might in fact help reduce that ugly dynamic. It is hard to see how it could be worse.
Thomas, the one who does not speak or ask questions, said video coverage would compromise his anonymity. It isn’t hard to see why he wants to remain anonymous. He is probably embarrassed of his “work.” Souter, since retired, said that a video camera would have to “roll over my dead body” before it would be allowed. Who cares what he thinks? He quit.
The only people in America who seem to believe that video in the Supreme Court is going to be a bad thing are the same people who are hiding from it, the Justices themselves. The rest of us deserve better. We deserve to see how they work.
So many people who wrote comments on my post about the Supreme Court had misconceptions about how it really works. That is a post for another day. However, I have to believe that if people could watch the Court at work they might have a better understanding of the process, and if they do, they might not be so upset about it. Or they might be more upset. But, after all, is that not the whole point of free speech? To be free to watch and listen and think and say things freely and to reach our own conclusions, rather than be spoon-fed information from those in power who claim the right to control what gets seen and what is hidden? Especially when the ones hiding so that they can protect themselves from public scrutiny are the same ones who are supposed to be protecting our right to be able to conduct that scrutiny..?
It all seems a bit backwards to me.
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