Cameras In The Courtroom

From this photo, the United States Supreme Court justices don’t look camera shy.  Although, admittedly, Justice Thomas looks like he’s ticked off about something. But while the justices appear willing to pose for a still photo, they really don’t like the idea of those new-fangled moving cameras at all.

The justices continue to stomp their feet and dig in their collective heels over the question of allowing cameras in the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia has long opposed the idea, but given his originalist philosophy and his apparent desire for things to be more like they were in 1789, that’s not a huge surprise. But the bad news is that apparently even more reasonable Justices, like Justices Sotomayor and Kagan have reversed their previous support for the concept.  Justices Breyer and Kennedy have testified that they too are opposed. And Chief Justice Roberts isn’t what you’d call a fan:

But despite the court’s virtually unanimous opposition, none of the justices are able to articulate a good reason for their position. Some of the concerns are “grandstanding by lawyers” or self-censorship by judges.  But where’s any evidence on that point? The Ohio Supreme Court has been live streaming oral arguments for years. I argued a case there this week. Here’s the video.  Let me ask a few questions. Do you get the gist of what we’re arguing about? I suspect you do. Do you see any grandstanding? I suspect you don’t. Do the Justices appear in any way inhibited or reticent? Not at all.

Here’s the thing. Judges and lawyers are dedicated professionals. They come to court to do their job. In the case of the judges, that means asking probing questions to assist them in resolving the issues before them. In the case of the lawyers, that means preparing the case to argue your client’s position as effectively as possible. None of that changes when the camera comes on. 

And an appellate argument is really intense. Judges ask tough questions and pose tricky hypotheticals. Lawyers have to have almost total recall of evidence and case law. When the argument starts, no one is thinking about the camera. There’s no time. 

The Supreme Court Justices concerns about grandstanding lawyers and camera shy judges reflects an appalling lack of confidence in lawyers and fellow judges. They need to get over it.