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 FeinsteinDem: Trump's China trademark looks like a quid pro quo Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick Flynn told FBI he didn't talk sanctions with Russian envoy: report MORE (D-Calif.) siding with six Republicans in opposition. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyIowa farmer to Grassley: 'You’re going to create one great big death panel' with ObamaCare repeal Senate eyeing vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee by Easter Afghan man to GOP senator: 'Who's going to save me?' MORE (R-Iowa), voted in favor, along with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAngst in GOP over Trump's trade agenda Republicans play clean up on Trump's foreign policy Comey meets Intel senators amid uproar over Trump-Russia ties MORE (R-Texas).

ADVERTISEMENT
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 Durbin McConnell: I’m very sympathetic to 'Dreamers' Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Dem senators call for independent Flynn probe MORE (D-Ill.) and Grassley in the Senate, and Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyHouse Dems ask Oversight to investigate Trump security practices Lawmakers debate allowing cameras in courtrooms Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate takes a hard line on Russia | Dems want hearings on Trump's cyber issues MORE (D-Va.), Ted PoeTed PoeLawmakers debate allowing cameras in courtrooms Hey Congress: Where’s the ban on ISIS? House passes bill requiring warrants for email searches MORE (R-Texas) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in the House.