Opinion: TV cameras in the Supreme Court would show more than just proceedings


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One of the few subjects about which Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was forthright at her confirmation hearings was cameras in the high court. She’s for ‘em. Not for the hoary arguments that televising the court’s proceedings would undermine its ‘ethos’ and introduce the justices’ faces to C-SPAN-watching terrorists.

‘I recognize that some members of the court have a different view, and certainly when and if I get to the court I will talk with them about that question,’ she told the Senate Judiciary Committee, ‘but I have said that I think it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom.’


Kagan said that cameras in the courtroom would show the public that the justices are ‘so prepared, they’re so smart, they’re so thorough, they’re so engaged [and] the questioning is rapid fire.’ In an article that rings true for this former Supreme Court reporter, Mike Sacks offers another argument for cameras: that they would humanize the justices.

Here’s Sacks on Justice John Paul Stevens’ last day at the court:

And then it came time for Justice Stevens’ farewell. The chief justice produced a letter beginning, ‘Dear John,’ signed by eight of the justices who for the prior hour had been waging scorched-earth intellectual warfare. ‘The bonds of friendship that we have forged,’ concluded the letter, ‘extend beyond our common endeavor.’

Justice Stevens then read his letter to the court, jokingly introduced by Roberts as a ‘rebuttal.’ After starting, ‘Dear Colleagues,’ Stevens went off script to proudly note that he wasn’t beginning, ‘Dear Brethren,’ as he would have when he first arrived on the bench in 1975. His voice broke twice in reading his two-paragraph note. ‘No one likes to see a grown man fight back tears, let alone a great-grandfather.’

Upon Stevens’ completion, Chief Justice Roberts, senior to Stevens only in title, paused to take a deep breath and collect his emotions before adjourning the court for its summer recess.

-- Michael McGough