T he first reporter I turn to for accurate news and analysis on a Supreme Court decision is Adam Liptak of The New York Times. In a recent article (“Supreme Court TV? Nice Idea, but Still Not Likely,” Nov. 28), he told us: “The Supreme Courts of Canada and the United Kingdom allow cameras” during their oral arguments.
But in the self-governing constitutional republic of the United States, Justice David Souter, when he was on our highest court, notoriously pledged: “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”
If I were teaching a high school civics class, I don’t know how I would explain to the students that they, like the rest of us ordinary citizens, are banned by the court from seeing and hearing how these top interpreters of our rule of law decide cases, thereby preventing us from learning who they are and how they think.
But as a longtime reporter on the court, I would tell the students what I knew about each justice, including my respect for David Souter’s exceptionally fair, lucid judgments while he was there — and my shock at his harsh rebuke concerning cameras in the courtroom.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the present court, whom I also respect for her knowledgeable independence, disappointed me, however, with her explanation of Souter’s order to keep cameras out: “David ... can go to the supermarket and do his shopping, and no one will notice.”
Huh? In my work, I’ve looked hard through the Constitution many times but cannot find any grant of anonymity to Supreme Court justices.
A notable exception to the justices’ prevailing distrust of the citizenry’s presence in their courtroom is the recently confirmed Justice Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School. I was very pleased to read Adam Liptak’s report, where Kagan, before joining the court, talked about being able to watch oral arguments, thereby explaining why now she would welcome the TV cameras.
As I reported last year (“We citizens are still excluded from the Supreme Court,” hanfordsentinel.com, March 23, 2010), Tony Mauro, a continually valuable reporter on the court, wrote in the March 9, 2010, New York Law Journal that a poll had revealed that “more than 60 percent of voters think that televising U.S. Supreme Court proceedings would be ‘good for democracy.’”
He added: “Only 26 percent said televising oral arguments would undermine the court’s ‘dignity or authority.’”
At New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University, which conducted the poll, Bruce Peabody, chairman of its department of social sciences and history, said:
“It is striking that majorities of Republicans, as well as Democrats, young and older voters, and political independents all believe that televising the Supreme Court would support self-government” (hanfordsentinel.com, March 23, 2010).
I ask the members of the Supreme Court — as they keep us from being present during the three days of oral arguments on the fiercely controversial Obamacare — how they justify this exclusion of citizens.