Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey has started a poll based on Reason.tv's recent vid, "The Case For Cameras in The Supreme Court" (alternative title in foreign markets: "Why Have Cameras Been in Katie Couric's Colon But Not The Supreme Court?"). Writes Morrissey:
The principle of transparency is key to a free society, but television does not equal transparency. The Supreme Court doesn't hold its interrogatory sessions in secret; those are public, and usually attract regular media attention in more significant cases. Their deliberations are private, but not even Nick wants to televise those; the question is whether to televise the public proceedings. The only value in that, it seems to me, is in training attorneys to present cases to the Supreme Court, which they can do by attending the sessions themselves. Otherwise, the value in having millions of people see the facial twitches of Ruth Bader Ginsburg rather than just reading the publicly-available transcripts of the proceedings seems an awfully minor value for transparency advocates to champion.
Part of my skepticism comes from having watched the OJ Simpson trial fifteen years ago. Cameras didn't improve the quality of justice; in fact, cameras turned the trial into a farce (or perhaps more of a farce than it otherwise would have been), with attorneys mugging for the camera and the media blowing everything out of proportion, including the fashionwear of the participants. Television didn't equal transparency then, and it doesn't now. The only non-transparent part of the Court's process is the deliberation, and the last thing we need is nine justices turning the Supreme Court into Jersey Shore.
More here, including a poll that you can vote in. Please vote your conscience, if you have one!
A couple of quick points: As an LA resident in the '90s, I watched and breathed the OJ Simpson trial too and drew a different conclusion from that experience than did Morrissey. The trial and the coverage was a fascinating and chilling glimpse into the idiocy of a prosecution that, despite an open-ended budget, sucked balls when it came to putting together what should have clearly been an open-and-shut case. The Simpson trial was an incredible cultural moment for many reasons, not the least of which were the issues of race, class, and gender it raised for discussion (indeed, far more than the politically correct college classrooms of the time did the OJ trial provide a forum for talking about so much of American life. And for keeping Kato Kaelin off workfare for a few extra weeks). I think America, and American justice, is much better for those proceedings being televised and letting all of us witness what happens in a courtroom. Note too that the C-SPAN-style filming wouldn't be the same as the often-breathless and inconsistent coverage of the OJ trial.
Second, as Ed notes, the transcripts (and the audio) of SCOTUS proceedings are available, though as C-SPAN's Brian Lamb notes, these often take a long time to come out. Yet there may well be a value in seeing Ruth Bader Ginsburg falling asleep during oral arguments, or checking out Nino "The Situationalist" Scalia's demeanor. It's interesting in and of itself and does no harm, I think. This may be a "minor value," as Ed puts it, but what's the cost? The same sort of arguments were made against televising Congress, that legislators would start playing to the cameras (curiously, no one ever makes that argument about convenience store customers). Mebbe, mebbe not. But would it be a bad thing if they did? As Lamb put it, these folks are public servants. Why not give us a look-see?
And now, on with the show: