As the probable date for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the reform law nears, senators are urging the court to introduce cameras for a live broadcast.
The Supreme Court has never allowed cameras in the courtroom, despite numerous bills in Congress over the years that have threatened to force the change. But on Monday, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Chief Justice John Roberts a letter asking the court to allow a live broadcast of its highly anticipated decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“A minimal number of cameras in the courtroom … would provide live coverage of what may be one of the most historic rulings of our time,” said the letter (PDF)
from committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “We believe permitting the nation to watch the proceedings would bolster public confidence in our judicial system and in the decisions of the court.”
The court answered a similar request to broadcast the oral arguments over the reform law in March with assurances that the court would release transcripts and audio recordings of rulings on the same day that the proceedings took place.
The court has not responded to the senators' request, according to a court spokeswoman.
During his 2005 Senate confirmation hearings, Roberts said he did not have a settled view on the question of cameras in the Supreme Court. But during a July 13, 2006 judicial conference, he said he appreciated the argument that “the public would benefit greatly from seeing how we do things.”
“All of the Justices view themselves as trustees of an extremely valuable institution, one that we think by and large functions pretty well,” he said. “The oral argument is a valuable and important part of that, and we're going to be very careful before we do anything that will have an adverse impact on that,” he said.
Other justices have expressed skepticism over the years. Justice Antonin Scalia said in October 2005 that Supreme Court justices “don't want to become entertainment,” while Justice Clarence Thomas said in April 2005 that televising proceedings could undermine how the court considers cases.
Justice Anthony Kennedy has said that broadcasting court business could actually mislead the public about how the court considers cases, since events that take place in the public courtroom constitute only a small amount of the decision-making process, according to an accounting of his comments in a 2006 report from the Congressional Research Service (PDF)
on televising Supreme Court hearings.