The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Cameras at the Supreme Court—and the confirmation process link


Over at SCOTUSblog, the latest portion of Dahlia Lithwick's interview is devoted to the Supreme Court's relative lack of press-friendliness. Lithwick notes that the Supreme Court of Canada is much more open and helpful to the press. The Supreme Court of Canada generally webcasts its arguments, and it gives special media briefings before opinions are announced explaining the new decisions to the press. Why doesn't the U.S. Supreme Court do the same, Lithwick wonders? What's wrong with our Justices, when the Canadian Justices obviously get the importance of working with the press and explaining their work to the public?

I think there are probably a bunch of reasons for the difference, but I wonder if one of them is our confirmation process. There is no Supreme Court confirmation process in Canada. When the executive makes the nomination, the nominee automatically has the job. In the U.S., by contrast, every Supreme Court nominee goes through a long and intense public confirmation process on the way to a Senate vote. For a few months, everything about a nominee is a potential national news story. The press follows nominees wherever they go. Reporters visit their childrens' sporting events, interview their neighbors, and even cover what they wrote in their high school newspaper. It's an intense spotlight, and it lasts for a few months.

This is just a guess, but I would guess that the different way Justices reach the two Supreme Courts may have something to do with their attitudes towards the press after they get there. The Canadian Justices reach their court quietly, without much press attention. In contrast, all the Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court first spent several months under intense public scrutiny. U.S. Justices who endured that difficult public process probably place higher value on whatever privacy they can get—and are more likely to view reporters with some suspicion—than their Canadian colleagues who didn't.