Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill this week that would put Supreme Court deliberations on television for the first time in the nation’s history.
“Decisions made by the Supreme Court impact the lives of Americans in every corner of the country, but their proceedings often don’t reach beyond the four walls of the court room,” Durbin said in an advisory. “Over the next several days, the Supreme Court will announce opinions in some of the most closely watched cases in a generation. People of reasonable minds may disagree on the proper outcome of these cases and others, but we can all agree that the American public deserves the opportunity to see firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come.”
The Cameras in the Courtroom Act would turn on the live feed inside the nation’s highest court only during public sessions, when curious onlookers who arrived early enough that day are invited to watch the court operate. Those onlookers are always few and far between, however, due to the limited seating space available in the court.
“The Supreme Court is a symbol of justice and fairness,” Grassley added in the duo’s advisory. “It considers some of the most important issues of our time. That’s why the Cameras in the Courtroom bill is necessary. The accountability, transparency and openness that this bill would create would help increase understanding of, and appreciation for, the highest court in the land and the decisions the court makes.”
The court has a well known aversion to televised deliberations, and just earlier this year Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy suggested that cameras in the court may cause justices to self-censor.
“You think it won’t affect you, your questioning,” Breyer told a House committee in March. “[The] first time you see on prime time television somebody taking a picture of you and really using it in a way that you think is completely unfair… in order to caricature [your position]… the first time you see that, you will watch a lot more carefully what you say.”
The prohibition on recordings and cameras in the court goes back to 1946, and was not updated until the 1990s, when video cameras were added to the list of banned recording devices. The last major reform to that policy came in 1999, when Sen. Grassley filed a bill seeking to put cameras in the court. Justices began releasing audio recordings of their deliberations in response to Grassley’s earlier effort.
“I continue to believe that the Court should permit live video broadcasts and I will reintroduce bipartisan legislation to make that happen,” Durbin wrote in a letter sent to Chief Justice John Roberts last week. “There are some who oppose putting cameras in the Supreme Court. That is a debate I welcome. There is, however, no legitimate reason for the Court not to immediately permit live audio broadcasts of its proceedings. An elite subset of the legal profession already benefits from live audio broadcasts of the Court’s proceedings, while the rest of Americans typically must wait until the end of the week for the same audio. It’s time for that to change.”
The court is expected to weigh in on several major cases in the next two weeks, leaving the nation eagerly awaiting to hear if same sex marriage will become legal and whether America will continue to engage in affirmative action to end racial disparities, to name just two.