Senate panel clears bill to allow cameras in Supreme Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation requiring TV cameras in the Supreme Court.

The vote was 11-7, with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinTrump, lower court nominees need American Bar Association review This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight Hotel industry details plans to fight Airbnb MORE (D-Calif.) siding with six Republicans in opposition. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTrump, lower court nominees need American Bar Association review Trump eyeing second Supreme Court seat Grassley: Another Supreme Court vacancy likely this summer MORE (R-Iowa), voted in favor, along with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record Disconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page Juan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP MORE (R-Texas).

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The issue for years has been a priority for many lawmakers, but the high court's decision to hear challenges to the healthcare reform law's individual mandate and Medicaid expansion this spring has made the argument for broadcasting oral arguments and the justices' questions even more compelling.

The bill, however, isn't expected to pass before the high court hears oral arguments over three days starting March 26: the House has yet to even schedule a markup, let alone a floor vote.

"We have the power to use technology to allow greater access to public proceedings of the government so all Americans can witness the quality of justice in this country, not just those of us who have the opportunity to be physically at one of the hearings," Leahy said. "That leaves 320-some odd million Americans who don't get to see it."

Cameras, he said, would "deepen Americans' understanding" of the court's work at a time of "tremendous public interest" surrounding the healthcare reform law ruling.

"This is especially important when decisions by the Supreme Court greatly affect the daily lives of hard-working Americans," he said.

Critics said Congress shouldn't tell the Supreme Court how to run its business.

"I do not believe that justice is better because it's televised," Feinstein said. "And I have seen actual situations where, in my view, it is worse."

She specifically mentioned the O.J. Simpson case, saying prosecutors, witnesses — and even judges — performed for the cameras.

Leahy was unswayed by those arguments.

"I know that some Justices are not fans of televising their proceedings," Leahy said. "I understand that they do not want to be made fun of through an unflattering video clip or to be quoted out of context. But that happens to the rest of us in public service all the time. It is not particularly pleasant, but it is part of our democracy. We try to counter misstatements by making sure the record is available to fair-minded people so that they are not left to rely on distortions."

The bill is championed by Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Senate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general Overnight Finance: Dems want ObamaCare subsidies for extra military spending | Trade battle: Woe, Canada? | Congress nears deal to help miners | WH preps to release tax plan MORE (D-Ill.) and Grassley in the Senate, and Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyBudget woes hinder US cybersecurity buildup Our IT system is dying: Here’s how President Trump can save it What Democrats want in shutdown fight MORE (D-Va.), Ted PoeTed PoeThe art of the compromise Ryan transfers record M to House GOP's campaign arm in March House votes to move toward designating North Korea as state sponsor of terror MORE (R-Texas) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in the House.