OPEN COURTS -- Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, writing in the National Law Journal, has two suggestions for the U.S. Supreme Court: start producing more decisions and let TV cameras in your courtroom.
On the separate question of whether to televise open Supreme Court proceedings, my position is simple. The Court is a public institution and should be available to all Americans, not just the select few who can travel to Washington. A recent C-SPAN poll found that 61% of Americans support televising the Supreme Court's oral arguments. Sotomayor said she would convey her "positive experiences" with television in her courtroom to her colleagues on the high court. Great Britain recently opened its highest court to television cameras.
In the era of the shrinking Supreme Court docket, denying petitions for certiorari may seem strategically expedient. But, in the end, the justices should not shirk their responsibility to say what the law is. Similarly, retaining the majesty and mystery of the Supreme Court as an institution may, at first blush, counsel against admitting television cameras. Yet it is only through observation of that venerable institution that an educated public can truly appreciate its significance.
The first test of Justice Sotomayor's willingness to cast votes in favor of certiorari in a paramount case or to turn the tide in favor of ordinary Americans by permitting camera coverage of arguments could come as early as September.