Monday, November 26, 2012
The energy surrounding the Court's anticipated grant of certiorari in at least one of the same-sex marriage cases - - - either one or more of the DOMA cases or the Prop 8 case (Perry v. Brown) - - - raises yet again the question of public access to Supreme Court oral arguments. While these cases are only the latest, they perhaps have special resonance given the Court's quelling of the planned broadcast of the Proposition 8 trial in federal court on dubious procedural grounds.
Prof Lisa McElroy's article, Cameras at the Supreme Court: A Rhetorical Analysis, forthcoming in BYU Law Review and available in draft on ssrn, argues persuasively for the broadcast of Supreme Court proceedings, based on the public's interest in accessing its government, including the judicial branch. The contribution of McElroy's excellent piece, however, is that it is not simply an argument, but an engagement with the "stories" the Court - - - and its Justices - - - tell about the Court and its lack of cameras. McElroy writes that there
can be no doubt that the Court has sincere concerns when it comes to granting public access to the Supreme Court, especially through broadcasting of official Court work. Among them are a desire for day-to- day privacy, a concern that allowing cameras or internet streaming will somehow damage the public’s perception of the Court, fears that broadcasting could somehow subject the Court or the Justices personally to mockery, and concerns that funny or less-than-devout comments made during oral argument might end up on the Internet or on programs like Jon Stewart. It is concerned that televising Supreme Court proceedings would change the very nature of those proceedings.
But, she continues,
the question we must ask is whether these concerns add up to a story with a factual basis, or whether they are a fairy tale that the Justices tell Americans–perhaps even themselves. Are the Court’s concerns borne out objectively, or are they instead a part of the story the institution has created (consciously or unconsciously) to justify its refusal to allow the American people virtual and physical access? Are inaccessibility, grandeur, and intimidation the only paths to legitimacy and respect?
Additionally, McElroy discusses whether the members of the Court are simply uncomfortable with technology, or jealous of their privacy (an increasingly untenable rationale), or worried about security, or not interested in change.
For any scholar or student considering issues of public access to Court proceedings, McElroy's article is a treasure as well as a treasure trove.