Dem senator: Cameras won’t turn Supreme Court into ‘Judge Judy’

Supporters of televised Supreme Court arguments said Tuesday there’s no reason for the justices to fear broader public access to their hearings — including the landmark case over President Obama’s healthcare law.

Senators from both parties have been pushing for decades to allow cameras into the Supreme Court’s chambers. But many of the justices fear their dense, aggressive questioning would be taken out of context, and that cameras would foster the public grandstanding often seen in Congress and the executive branch.

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A Democratic senator dismissed those fears Tuesday, saying cameras would not cheapen the high court’s proceedings.  

“I’m trying to picture Ruth Bader Ginsburg turning into Judge Judy. I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said during a hearing on the subject Tuesday.

The healthcare case — which is set for nearly six hours of oral arguments over two days — has renewed the push for cameras in the Supreme Court. Some lawmakers have called for a one-time exception to the court’s policy, citing the magnitude of the case, and others have renewed their push for legislation that would make televised arguments mandatory.  

Klobuchar told reporters after the hearing that she doesn’t necessarily think the healthcare ruling would be seen as illegitimate if it isn’t televised, as some of her colleagues have suggested. She said the public simply has a right to see the court in action.

But legal experts and a federal judge warned the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the courts not to require cameras, even if it means the healthcare case is never captured on film.

Antony Sirica, chief judge of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, told the panel that the bill is the wrong way to pursue a legitimate goal. 

Deciding whether to televise oral arguments “goes to the heart of how the court deliberates,” Sirica said, and should be left up to the justices. He said each branch of government should be free to determine its own procedures and should respect the other branches’ autonomy.

“Congress didn’t create the Supreme Court; the Constitution did,” said Maureen Mahoney, an attorney with Latham and Watkins.

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A law mandating cameras in the courtroom could raise constitutional questions about the scope of Congress’s power, which would ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court. 

The court does not even allow still photography during arguments. It releases transcripts of the questioning, as well as audio recordings. Oral arguments are open to the public, though most people can only remain in the courtroom for a few minutes at a time.


—Updated at 2:30 p.m.

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