Monday, March 17, 2008

status of Senate Bill to mandate broadcasts of Supreme Court arguments

Camera In January 2007, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) co-sponsored a bi-partisan bill aimed at requiring the Supreme Court to televise oral arguments. See Sen. 344, 110th Cong. (Jan. 25, 2007). (Co-sponsors were Senators Grassley, Durbin, Schumer, Feingold, and Cornyn.) An identical proposal was introduced in the House by Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas) (co-sponsored by Representatives Baird, Davis, Frank, Gillibrand, McCotter, Paul, and Pearce.) See H.R. 1299, 110th Cong. (Mar. 1, 2007).

Following initial hearings in February 2007, Senate Bill 344 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the bill was placed on that committee's agenda for December 13, 2007; no action has been reported from that meeting. Although the House bill was similarly referred to that body's judiciary committee, nothing has been scheduled to date.

Should Supreme Court arguments be televised? Many think so, and they point to the success of a number of state court initiatives as evidence that the proposal would work well at the nation's highest court, notwithstanding some justices' objections.

  • Justice Kennedy spoke against the bill at the February 2007 hearing, arguing in particular that "televised oral arguments would change the collegial dynamic between the Court and counsel." Robert L. Brown, Just a Matter of Time? Video Cameras at the United States Supreme Court and the State Supreme Courts, 9 J. App. Prac. & Process 1, 7 (2007) (quoting Joan Biskupic, Justice Pleads with Senate: No Cameras in High Court, USA Today 8A (Feb. 15, 2007)).
  • Justice David Souter has been quoted as saying that "the day you see a [television] camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body." Id. at 4 (quoting Assoc. Press, On Cameras in Supreme Court, Souter Says, "Over My Dead Body," 155 N.Y. Times 24 (Mar. 30, 1996)).

Similar proposals in the 109th Congress (Sen. 1768) and 106th Congress (Sen. 3086) went nowhere. Will these bills meet a similar fate?

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