Supreme Court as reality TV is bad law

It’s official. America’s insatiable thirst for reality television has made its way into the halls of the U.S. Congress.

If a few of my colleagues have their way, the U.S. Supreme Court chambers could become the latest reality TV mess. As three straight days of oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care law start Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court, chants by those who want cameras in the courtroom have grown louder.

On Dec. 6, 2011, Rep. Gerry Connolly introduced H.R. 3572: the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011, which would alter a long-standing rule and permit television coverage of all open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court unless the justices determine television coverage would violate a litigant’s due process rights.

Supporters of the bill argue that television coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court proceedings will provide the American public with greater transparency and access to the Court. In contrast, opponents contend the rule should stay in place in the interest of maintaining the integrity and decorum that should be afforded to the highest court in the land.


Courts, cameras and the public's right to know

This week, when the Supreme Court hears an historic six hours of oral arguments about the constitutionality of the health insurance reform law, only a few dozen citizens at a time will be allowed into the chamber to watch and listen.
The Court’s decisions on the Affordable Care Act will decide whether the people’s elected representatives have the authority to regulate the nation’s health insurance market to make health care more affordable, to hold insurers accountable and to rein in runaway and unsustainable medical costs -- issues with profound pocketbook and personal health implications for every American family, and for the wellbeing of the nation.
Yet citizens will have to “earn” their right to see their highest court in action by standing in line, outside, overnight.  To so stringently limit access to such an important public proceeding makes no sense, especially in an age of such abundant and extraordinary communications tools.


Time to support the president on judicial nominations

President Barack Obama has finally made a national issue of what has long been a national crisis in our federal court system by calling for meaningful nominations reform in his State of the Union address.

His proposal, immediately endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calls for all judicial and public service nominees to receive an up-or-down confirmation vote within 90 days, setting a deadline that would prevent the months and years-long delays in confirming sorely needed judges to our courts. George W. Bush made a similar proposal during his Presidency. It was right then, and it is right now.

Of course, this reform would not just impact the courts – Senate obstruction of executive branch nominees has left many essential government positions unfilled. But the impact that this partisan obstruction has had on the functioning of our government’s third branch is an issue that has long been overlooked. Nothing less than immediate and significant reform is needed to curb the growing vacancy crisis on our courts, and to end distortions of the characters and records of well-qualified, well-meaning judicial nominees.


It is time for cameras in the courtroom

There is one thing on which Republicans and Democrats, not to mention a majority of the public, agree when it comes to the health insurance reform law: This month’s Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of that landmark legislation ought to be televised so the public can hear the oral arguments on a case that will affect the lives of every American.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to allow television cameras in the Supreme Court to broadcast all open sessions. Sadly, Congress and the Court itself are poised to miss this historic opportunity.


Setting the record straight on immigration rule change

"Obama's Immigration Policy: Borrowing from Peter to Pay Paul" by S.R. Sobhani about the Obama administration’s latest announcement on immigration policy is long on rhetoric and short on facts. The author falls right in line with the "this is backdoor amnesty" charge without bothering to see that the latest administration proposal is a proposed regulatory change -- not an executive order -- that only applies to a small group of persons who already have a green card waiting for them. These are precisely the immigrants who have been waiting in line and now face a bureaucratic challenge to obtaining the physical green cards. 
Nor is the proposed rule an example of the president bypassing Congress to further his agenda. The executive branch executes the laws that Congress makes through rules and regulations. Administrations often change those rules and regulations in order to correct inconsistencies or to make implementation of the laws more rational. The proposed rule change falls precisely within the scope of what administrations do.


The Constitution, not Congress

Seeking to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s recent recognition of an individual Second Amendment right, pro-gun advocates have thrown their support behind the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, which forces states to recognize other states’ concealed-carry permits as valid.  However, this Act, which recently passed in the House of Representatives, seeks to accomplish too much, too soon, and will ultimately result in the very kind of federal overreaching that pro-gun groups have opposed for decades.


Trade rulings undermine consumer protection

“His name was Colin; here are his papers,” said the waitress presenting a bound prospectus to two diners who possess a limitless interest in the origin, diet and even friendship circle of the chicken they are about to order. The scene comes from Portlandia, the sketch comedy that skewers the bobo lifestyle.

Most of us aren’t quite so inquisitive about our food. But in an era of mass food-borne illness outbreaks, we do need retailers to provide basic information about our foods’ origins, and regulators to ensure the accuracy of these claims.

The country-of-origin labels we now rely on come from a 2008 law that ensures we know in which countries our meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The policy resulted from decades of consumer campaigning in response to slaughterhouses’ practices of routinely combining dozens of animals from diverse countries into the same hamburger patty, without having to even document the cattle’s origin.


On Main Street or in Cyberspace, a sale is a sale

 “All May Park, All Must Pay.”  That sign adorns parking meters in cities across America, sending the clear, concise message that everyone is treated equally. Whether car or truck, sedan or coup, Ford or Chevy, the rule applies and the fee is owed.  No special deals, no loop-holes; it’s simple: if you park, you pay.  The kind of equal treatment afforded city parkers is exactly what Main Street retailers have long been denied and what bipartisan legislation introduced this week in the Senate seeks to correct.

 A sale is a sale, whether it happens at a store on Main Street or with a click online. States have long required that sales tax be paid on both purchases. However, while Main Street retailers are obligated to collect sales tax on each purchase, their online peers are often not. So while a tax is still legally owed in both instances, it is not always collected by online retailers. This results in a perceived price advantage of up to 10 percent for some online retailers over their Main Street competitors. Make no mistake, the tax is still owed, but because of a decades old loophole, the obligation instead falls to consumers to maintain records of online purchases and pay the sales tax when they file their state income taxes for that year.  Not surprisingly, most fail to do so.


Looking back to make a more ethical future

There are tremendous challenges associated with effectively punishing corporate crimes.  Perhaps the greatest of these is figuring out what, if anything, can be done to prevent those crimes in the first place. 

Government certainly can’t walk the halls of every company to root out wrongdoing.  The only practical solution then is to give companies incentives to police themselves.  But how?



Nation's infrastructure talks lack focus on key element- H20

In past weeks, there has been much discussion on Capitol Hill of the need to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure. As a professional working in infrastructure finance policy for many years – and as former Associate Assistant Administrator for Water in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – I’m encouraged to see infrastructure finally a topic of national interest, but I find it troubling that the nation’s water infrastructure needs are continually overlooked. 

 Our drinking water and wastewater treatment systems provide the lifeblood for economic vitality in our communities, as well as protect our public health and environment.  The water sector faces many of the same challenges as our transportation colleagues, such as deteriorating infrastructure, delayed construction, and diminishing public funds. But unlike our nation’s highways, the water industry has had great success in leveraging private investment.   Like our infrastructure itself, our financing systems need to be overhauled for a modern world to meet its modern demands.