Kagan: Congress not ‘great advertisement’ for cameras in high court

Congress is not a shining example of the good that comes when cameras are introduced into government proceedings, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said Monday.

Kagan said she continues to have reservations about introducing cameras into Supreme Court oral arguments — something advocates and members of Congress have pushed for years.

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“I don’t think Congress is a great advertisement for this,” she said during a conversation at the University of Chicago. “I don’t mean that in the way they work generally, but it used to be that Congress would do hearings without cameras, and I’ve got to say, I think that those hearings probably sounded a lot different than they do now.”

She said congressional debate used to be “more substantive” rather than consisting of members using “these kind of sound bite messages to the outer world."

Justices would be less prone to those sound bites because they do not run for reelection, she conceded. But she cautioned that cameras could mess up a dynamic that currently works.

Kagan said she understands the argument that citizens should be able to see how the court operates. She held that view when she was the solicitor general and endorsed the idea during her confirmation hearing. 

She has since reversed course but said it is something the court will continue to consider. 

“I think this will not happen right now,” she said. “I think that there are ways in which we can become more open to the public, and I think we’ll continue to explore those ways, and I don’t think that this is one of those kinds of, you know, ‘over my dead body’ issues.”

Earlier this year, multiple members of Congress criticized the court for avoiding the issue in a year-end report that had a heavy emphasis on technology. 

“Are we saying the more remote we make it, the less accessible we make it, the more esteem it will generate in the public?” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) asked earlier this year. “If that is the case, that is an argument for pulling the plug on C-SPAN.”