Wednesday, December 07, 2005

SCOTUS Audio Recordings of Oral Arguments Might Be a Good Thing

I think it would be a mistake to bring television cameras into the Supreme Court's chambers during oral arguments.

In fact, I wish that we could have cameras removed from the US House and Senate. They were installed, I know, to promote democratic and open government. But the real upshot is that members of both houses enjoy playing to the TV audience, often accompanying their presentations with little dog and pony shows that range from the amateurish to the embarrassing.

The real decision-making process can't be shown in legislative floor sessions or even in committee hearings, in any case. So, watching the House or Senate on CSpan 1 and 2, respectively, is a waste of time.

I'd be concerned about a similar playing to the crowd in the Supreme Court should TV cameras be brought in for oral arguments. While the justices are appointed for life, giving them no need to engage in show biz antics like those of the legislators across the street at the Capitol, and all seem to go about their work with seriousness, the temptation to go Hollywood could prove powerful once the cameras were in place.

But I have been interested in the audio recordings of oral arguments over the past several weeks. Yesterday's session on the Solomon Amendment was particularly interesting. There appeared to be near-unanimity on the part of the Court that the free speech of law schools is not impinged upon when the Department of Defense refuses to remit monies to them after they refuse to allow military recruiters onto their campuses over the department's policies regarding gays.

The Court has become such a favorite object of scorn in our society. The scorn comes from both the Left and the Right. But it's possible that the slight lifting of the veil represented by the release of audio recordings of the oral arguments will make the Court's ultimate rulings more understandable to the public, humanize the institution, and maybe, reduce some of the nastiness that often fills people's condemnations of SCOTUS and the judiciary generally. Any time we can generate more light than heat in our public discussions, that's a good thing.

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