Justice Sotomayor Doesn't Want Cameras In The Supreme Court Because Americans Won't Understand
from the citizen-mushroom,-reporting-for-inactive-non-duty dept
Justice Sotomayor is pitching in with the "new transparency" (now available in black, charcoal and midnight slate!), reversing field on her previously stated opinions on cameras in the courtroom.
At her confirmation hearings in 2009, she said she was in favor of letting citizens see their government at work. “I have had positive experiences with cameras,” she said. “When I have been asked to join experiments of using cameras in the courtroom, I have participated. I have volunteered.”Apparently, much like the rest of the administration, transparency is a great talking point in theory. In practice, however, it's a very different story.
She was singing a different tune a couple of weeks ago, telling Charlie Rose that most Americans would not understand what goes on at Supreme Court arguments and that there was little point in letting them try.Now, while Sotomayor may be correct that many Americans don't understand the nuances of the Supreme Court, it's rather insulting to believe this ignorance should preclude them from observing the inner workings. After all, many Americans are ignorant of ins and outs of the entire political process, and yet, no one's suggesting (at least not legislatively) that they have their right to vote revoked. Not only that, but C-SPAN offers wall-to-wall coverage of the legislative process, something few people in their right minds would claim to understand in its entirety, but no one seems concerned that viewers drawing the wrong conclusions will somehow harm that process.
“I don’t think most viewers take the time to actually delve into either the briefs or the legal arguments to appreciate what the court is doing,” she said. “They speculate about, oh, the judge favors this point rather than that point. Very few of them understand what the process is, which is to play devil’s advocate.”
In fact, she doesn't really make an argument as to why cameras shouldn't be allowed into the courtroom. All she does is claim that the proceedings would fly over the heads of viewers. If she's concerned some of the real-time "devil's advocating" will be misconstrued, her fears are misplaced, to say the least. The public can misconstrue the intentions of the justices without a live feed, thank you very much.
And, if it's the public's understanding of the process she's worried about, wouldn't it make more sense to make the process easily accessed? It's pretty hard to increase knowledge without observation. It seems counterintuitive to dismiss the public as ignorant and think you're going to improve this by locking them out.
Unfortunately, it's not just Sotomayor making a 180 when actually faced with making a theoretical situation a reality. Justice Elena Kagan has also reversed her stance.
At her confirmation hearings in 2010, she said video coverage “would be a great thing for the institution, and more important, I think it would be a great thing for the American people.” Two years later, she said she now had “a few worries, including that people might play to the camera” and that the coverage could be misused.Once again, we have fake fears covering for the government's natural tendency to do its "best" work behind closed doors. C-SPAN has seen its share of "playing to the camera," and yet, the American public is still better off having access to this coverage. And, if Kagan's worried the courtroom coverage might be "misused," she's apparently unaware that anything can be misused, whether it's press releases, public statements, speaking engagements, interviews, C-SPAN footage, etc. Worrying about potential "misuse" is an incredibly weak argument for opacity. Of course it will be misused. But it will also be beneficial to the general public. An open feed shows the whole story, which can then be used to punch holes in the arguments of those who misuse the information.
Oddly enough, the home of free speech and democracy is lagging behind countries like Canada and the UK in terms of cameras in these nations' highest courts.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which was formed in 2009, allows camera coverage. Last month, Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge, the head of the judiciary for England and Wales, announced that cameras would be allowed in appeal courts starting in October, after judges receive media training.So, we've heard the excuses (they're not actually "reasons") presented for keeping cameras out of the Supreme Court, but what's the real reason behind this resistance to cameras in the courthouse? According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the problem may be with the justices themselves.
Lord Judge agreed with Justice Sotomayor, to a point. “I suspect John and Jane Citizen will find it incredibly dull,” he told a committee of the House of Lords. But that did not seem to him a reason to prevent them from trying to make sense of the proceedings.
Arguments in the Supreme Court of Canada have been broadcast since the mid-1990s, and more recently they have been streamed live on the Internet.
Owen M. Rees, the court’s executive legal officer, said the experience had been positive.
“The filming of the Supreme Court of Canada’s hearings has increased the public’s access to the court and its understanding of the court’s work,” he said. “Of course, each court must make its own evaluation of whether introducing cameras in the courtroom would be appropriate.”
Chief Justice Roberts said he worried about the effect that cameras would have on lawyers and, perhaps more important, on the justices, who may have less self-control than their counterparts abroad.If true, then the American public is being cut out of the process in order to save the justices from themselves. This is completely backwards, to say the least. If cameras provoke this sort of response from the highest court in the land, then something needs to be fixed within the court itself. Trying to place the blame on the public for a perceived lack of comprehension or tendency to misuse information is wholly disingenuous. Our Supreme Court can, and should, follow the lead of Canada and the UK and stop treating US citizens as though they have no (comprehensible) horse in this race.
“We unfortunately fall into grandstanding with a couple of hundred people in the room,” the chief justice said.