Sens. Leahy, Grassley call on Supreme Court to televise healthcare ruling

The top Democrat and top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged the Supreme Court on Tuesday to televise its ruling in the landmark challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are long-standing supporters of cameras in the Supreme Court. They were among the high-profile lawmakers who pressed the court — unsuccessfully — to televise the historic six-plus hours of oral arguments in the healthcare case.

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After losing that push, they want the justices to open up the court when the decision is handed down. A ruling is expected to come in the next two weeks.

“A minimal number of cameras in the courtroom, which could be placed to be barely noticeable to all participants, would provide live coverage of what may be one of the most historic rulings of our time,” Leahy and Grassley said in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts. “We believe permitting the nation to watch the proceedings would bolster public confidence in our judicial system and in the decisions of the Court.”

The justices have resisted televising their oral arguments in part because they say cameras could distort the process. The justices’ questions are pointed and at times esoteric. Some justices have expressed concern that the presence of cameras would lead to grandstanding, the way it has in other forums such as congressional hearings.

Decisions are usually less visual than oral arguments. Usually, the justice who wrote the majority opinion reads a short part of the decision aloud, and the court then moves or calls it a day.

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, however, Justice John Paul Stevens took the unusual step of reading aloud from his dissent. It’s rare for a dissenting justice to read an opinion aloud from the bench, and is generally seen as a sign that the he or she is deeply troubled by the majority’s decision.

If any case is going to provide the same level of intensity, it’s probably healthcare. The case set a new record for outside briefs, and protesters packed the plaza in front of the Supreme Court building during all three days of oral arguments.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said last week that “sharp disagreements” are sure to flare up over the next few weeks as the court releases the last opinions of its term, including the healthcare decision.