Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cameras in the Court

On October 4th, 2009, just as the U.S. Supreme Court opens its new term and welcomes new Justice Sotomayor, C-SPAN invites Americans to tour the Supreme Court building and hear directly from the Justices during the network’s newest special feature series, "Supreme Court Week."

The C-SPAN special "The Supreme Court: Home to America's Highest Court," will give an inside look at the nation's top court and the people who sit the bench. Interspersed among the individual interviews with current and retired justices will be a Supreme Court tour with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I have written before on the fact that the various Justices have held differing opinions on whether camers in the courtroom are appropriate. While he was still Supreme Court justice, David Souter (who is replaced by Sonia Sotomayor) discouraged any attempts to broadcast Supreme Court proceedings. He used the "camel's nose" theory fearing that once they had even the slightest amount of access, the media would soon gain full access to Court proceedings. Justice Souter once told a House Appropriations subcommittee, “that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” Justice Sotomayor seems to be of a different opinion. See below the current and past views of the Justices on allowing cameras in the court.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Took Her Seat: September 8, 2009

"I’m a pretty good litigator, or I was a really good litigator, and I know that when I worked hard at trying to convince my colleagues of something after listening to them, they’ll often try it for awhile. I mean, we’ll have to talk together... I would be … the new voice in the discussion. New voices often see things and talk about them and consider taking new approaches."
— Confirmation Hearing, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas

Took His Seat: October 23, 1991

"I have no objection beyond a concern that the cameras be as unobtrusive as possible…Its good for the American public to see what's going on in there."
— Confirmation Hearing, 1991

"It runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider the cases. Certainly it will change our proceedings. And I don't think for the better."
— Testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee, April 4, 2006

Justice Antonin Scalia

Took His Seat: Septemeber 26, 1986

"I wouldn't mind having the proceedings of the court, not just audioed, but televised, if I thought it would only go out on a channel that everyone would watch gavel-to-gavel. But if you send it out on C-SPAN, what will happen is, for every one person who sees it on C-SPAN gavel-to-gavel…10,000 will see 15-second sound takeouts on the network news, which I guarantee you will be uncharacteristic of what the court does…So, I have come to the conclusion that it will misinform the public rather than inform the public to have our proceedings televised. .They want "man bites dog" stories. They don't want people to watch what the Supreme Court does over the course of a whole hour of argument. People aren't going to do that."
— "A Constitutional Conversation," April 21, 2005

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Took His Seat: February 18, 1988

"My initial reaction is that I think it might make me and my colleagues behave differently than they would otherwise. Perhaps they would be accustomed to it after awhile. The press is a part of our environment. We cannot really excise it from the environment. But in the courtroom, I think that the tradition has been that we not have that outside distraction, and I am inclined to say that I would not want them in appellate court chambers."

"I once had a case in which-it was a very celebrate case in the City of Seattle. And the courtroom was packed. And we were at a critical point in the argument. I was presiding. And a person came in with all kinds of equipment and began setting it up. And he disturbed me. He disturbed the attorneys. He disturbed everybody in the room."
And he was setting up an easel to paint our picture, which was permitted. If he had a little Minox camera, we would have held him in contempt. So, the standard doesn't always work."
— Confirmation Hearings, 1987

Justice Stephen Breyer

Took His Seat: August 3, 1994

When you say start with the video and see how it goes…And be very, very cautious, I think that would reflect my view."
— "A Constitutional Conversation," April 21, 2005

"Let me not talk about the particular case, and let me think about things that were in my mind a year ago, or two years ago, well before that particular matter arose. At that time, I voted in favor in the judicial conference of experimenting with television in the courtroom. That has been carried out. The results are being evaluated."

"In Massachusetts, television is in the courtroom. The Massachusetts judges I've spoken to seem generally satisfied. The results of that are being evaluated in the federal system. My particular appeals court was not part of the experiment, but not for want of willingness; it was because they could only have a small number."

"That's the circumstances in which I think my vote in favor of the experiment was right as of this moment-abstracting from this particular case and putting myself back in the frame of mind I was two or three months ago in respect to this. That's basically my view."
— Confirmation Hearing, July 13, 1994

Justice David Souter

Took His Seat: October 9, 1990

"The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it's going to roll over my dead body."
— Congressional Testimony, 1996

"If the cameras are unobtrusive and are not making sound that is distracting, that's one thing. There is still a risk…Cameras which are obtrusive to oral argument so that they really do distract your attention. That is something that has to be avoided…There's no question there's value there."
— Confirmation Hearings, 1990

Justice Stephen Breyer

Took His Seat: August 3, 1994

"I'd say this, Senator. The issue came up in the Judicial Conference of the United States, of which I was a member. That's the-they have representatives of all the circuits and also the district courts. And I voted in favor of that. We voted to have a television in the-the questions as the Court of Appeals and the district courts and we would run an experimental program. And it's going on now in the district courts, but also in the courts of appeals. I volunteered our First Circuit with the concurrence of the other judges for the program, but we were not accepted as an experimental circuit. So, I have expressed a view that is appropriate in that way in the Judicial Conference.
"Now, I should add that before making any decision about in the Supreme Court of the United states, if that issue arose, obviously I would listen to other members of the Court and try to understand their points of view and what they were thinking, too."
— Confirmation Hearing, July 12, 1994