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 FeinsteinDem senator seeks more time for 'due diligence' on Sessions nomination Senate sets date for hearings on Sessions's attorney general nomination Senators move to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (D-Calif.) siding with six Republicans in opposition. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyDem senator seeks more time for 'due diligence' on Sessions nomination Senate sets date for hearings on Sessions's attorney general nomination Mnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators MORE (R-Iowa), voted in favor, along with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator: Russian hacking 'hardly news' Senators move to protect 'Dreamers' Democrats back down from shutdown threat MORE (R-Texas).
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 DurbinSenators move to protect 'Dreamers' Manchin urging colleagues to block funding bill as shutdown looms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ill.) and Grassley in the Senate, and Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyTrump tariff talk raises questions for GOP Overnight Cybersecurity: Fed agency IT report cards | Senate Dems push for briefing on Russia hacks Watchdog finds improvement in federal agencies' IT MORE (D-Va.), Ted PoeTed PoeOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers pushing for vote to delay warrant rule changes Coons to call for voice vote to halt changes to hacking rule The right person for State Department is Rudy Giuliani MORE (R-Texas) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in the House.