No TV In The Supreme Court? Why Not?

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer testified in the Senate earlier this week about the role of justices under the Constitution. In the course of their testimony, both stated that they oppose televising oral arguments. Justice Scalia is against it in part because he thinks it would be boring. He says viewers would see justices sitting there “like nine sticks on chairs.” Justice Breyer worries that televising the proceedings would hurt the court’s institutional reputation. Whatever that is. I respectfully dissent. As to Justice Scalia’s concern, it really isn’t a question of whether the proceedings would make for riveting television. It’s about whether government should be more transparent or less transparent. It’s possible, actually probable, that most oral arguments would bore viewers to tears. But that doesn’t mean we should be denied the opportunity to watch. We should be able not only to read the opinions that reshape our laws, but we should be able to observe the demeanor of the folks who do the reshaping. Are they attentive, dismissive, engaged? Don’t we have the right to know that? And what better way to make that determination than with our own eyes and ears? And Justice Breyer, all I can say is that you are wrong. Televising oral arguments will not hurt the court’s institutional reputation. Ohio’s Supreme Court has been live streaming oral arguments to its Web site for years. Does any rational person think less of that court as a result? If televising U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments causes viewers to see that some justices bully litigants or that other justices are completely disengaged, that may diminish respect for the court. But that’s the fault of the justices, not the camera.