Justice Sotomayor no longer backs television cameras in Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she no longer supports bringing cameras into the courtroom, a reversal from comments she made during her confirmation hearings.

Sotomayor told a crowd in New York that allowing television cameras to capture the court's oral arguments would do more harm than good, according to a report in New York magazine.


“I think the process could be more misleading than helpful,” she said. “It's like reading tea leaves. I think if people analyzed it, it is true that in almost every argument you can find a hint of what every judge would rule. But most justices are actually probing all the arguments."

Advocacy groups and members of Congress routinely press the court to televise its oral arguments, saying the public should have access to the deliberative process as the court works through major issues that affect the entire country.

The idea has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill but has met resistance from the court itself, specifically its older members. They've said the presence of cameras could reduce oral arguments to showmanship, as it has with congressional hearings.

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Sotomayor, one of the court's youngest members, sounded open to the idea during her confirmation hearings. While remaining noncommittal, she said she had had "good experiences" with cameras in the courtroom and would relay those positive experiences to the rest of the court.

But by this week's appearance in her native New York, she had changed her mind. Introducing cameras would give the public a misleading impression of the court, and tough questioning designed to test the merits of each side's arguments would be seen as a sign of how the justices will ultimately rule, she said.

"Looking at oral argument is not going to give you that explanation. Oral argument is the forum in which the judge plays devil's advocate with lawyers," Sotomayor said, according to the magazine.

Oral arguments are sometimes a reasonably good guide to which way each justice is leaning, but they're certainly an imperfect indicator. The court's private deliberations aren't open to the public at all, and they have frequently produced rulings that didn't fall the way oral arguments had seemed to indicate.

She said the court fully explains its reasoning in its rulings, and that's what really counts.

"There's no other public official who is required by the nature of their work to completely explain to the public the basis of their decision," she said.