The impending retirement of Justice David Souter has given new hope to proponents of televising oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Souter expressed extremely strong opposition to televising court proceedings when he told a House Appropriations subcommittee in 1996: "I think the case is so strong that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."
None of the other sitting justices has gone on record as favoring cameras in court, but Souter "was the proposal's most ardent public foe," according to Politico.
Brian Lamb, founder and CEO of C-CPAN — which already televises congressional proceeding — said: "Justice Souter going off the court means a vocal opponent is gone."
He added that Chief Justice John Roberts may have been reluctant to deal with the issue while Souter was on the court.
As for concerns that televising oral arguments could encourage grandstanding by attorneys before the court, Lamb told Politico:
"The chief justice who has his hand on the gavel can control any kind of rambunctiousness in which lawyers might want to show off. The public would benefit by seeing this isn't 'Judge Judy.' The process of writing opinions will never be public. All we're asking for is the public discussions for one hour. It's a public forum, and there's only 80 of those a year."
Justice Stephen Breyer in April acknowledged that televised arguments would allow Americans to "see how in some of these difficult issues we struggle with them." But he cautioned that viewers might not comprehend that oral arguments comprise only a small portion of the judicial process.
Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has introduced legislation to allow cameras in the Court, but the measures have gone nowhere, Politico noted.
The court does release transcripts of oral arguments within several hours after their conclusion, and occasionally issues audiotapes of proceedings.
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