Although supporters argue banning the recording of Supreme Court proceedings limits transparency, how would televising courtroom proceedings benefit the American people? The Supreme Court currently posts written and audio transcripts of all open proceedings.
Any decision by Congress to impose its will upon the Supreme Court would impugn our fundamental doctrine of separation of powers, enshrined in our Constitution. The separation of powers doctrine is based upon the idea of the separate and co-equal branches of government where no single branch is more important than the other two and cannot require another branch to act or acquiesce.
I believe the Judiciary must have the power to manage its own operations in order to function as a co-equal branch of government. No other branch of government is subject to micromanagement by another. There is no legal basis requiring that the Judiciary cede its authority to allow cameras in its chambers.
It would be unthinkable for Congress to pass a law mandating that the White House allow cameras in all cabinet meetings unless the president decides that national security would not be compromised.
The Congress itself has determined which of its activities are open to cameras, and which are not. This is allowable according to the separation of powers doctrine. I think that Congress would do the nation harm should it attempt to manage operations of another branch.
If legislators can compel the highest court of the land to allow cameras in the courtroom, where would we draw the line limiting Congress’ authority? Congress could have carte blanche to determine the hours of court house operation, limitations on Court recesses, or the maximum number of vacation days that the justices could take during the calendar year.
The proposed legislation could lead to a constitutional crisis similar to the Watergate scandal, which triggered impeachment action against the president for committing the high crime of obstruction of justice.
During Watergate, the Court ordered the president to turn over White House tapes to Congress and President Nixon refused on the grounds of executive privilege. A similar dilemma could occur if the Supreme Court decided to disobey the legislation, and instead insist upon protecting their prerogative to manage itself independent of the Legislature.
As I consider the implications of Congress trying to dictate to the Judiciary, I reach a simple conclusion: this bill would make bad law.