Televise the Supreme Court?

April 4, 2012

Last week the Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments over the Affordable Care Act. Over the course of the next few months, the Court will act entirely behind closed doors as they decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act (though in likelihood the Justices have already taken their vote), with a full decision coming in June.

Transparency can be a big step in changing the public’s view of the Court. Although the Court took steps to make audio recordings and transcripts of the health insurance hearings available the same day as arguments took place, cameras are still not allowed in the courtroom, and the Court declined a request from C-SPAN to broadcast the arguments over health insurance reform. However, media outlets have been more persistent in their calls for the Court to open its doors to cameras. Jules Witcover writes in the Chicago Tribune, arguing for broadcasting Supreme Court proceedings:

While virtually all other aspects of the American political system at work can today be observed directly by the citizenry, either live or on taped rebroadcast on television, the Supreme Court in session remains essentially in the dark. Hand-drawn sketches of the justices and lawyers must suffice because photographs also are prohibited.

A poll from this January by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 75% of the public believes that the Supreme Court Justices let their ideologies play a role in their decisions, and 59% believe that on this particular case, the judges will allow their own ideologies to sway their decision. Could more transparency move the public in their view of the Court?

Cameras in the courtroom will likely not go all the way in swaying the public’s opinion. However, it could be an important first step by showing the public what goes on in the highest court in the country, one in which a large majority of Americans will never set foot.


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