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TV cameras should be allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court

Wouldn't it be something to see your U.S. Supreme Court at work?

To watch justices deal with some of the biggest questions of the day, like same-sex marriage, campaign finance, or whether juveniles should get life in prison if they didn't kill anyone?

How about being able to listen in as they hear cases that speak volumes about where we are in the world right now — like one about the rights of grieving families of the military dead vs. those of lunatic fringe demonstrators who show up to funerals with signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers"? To witness decisions that determine who we are as a country?

Hey, looks like we might agree on this one. A recent poll says more than 60 percent of voters believe televising Supreme Court proceedings would be "good for democracy." Even a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans think so, if you can believe that.

But our highest court has resisted exposure to the sort of sunshine that could put its proceedings on C-SPAN and in your living room. Oft-cited reasons are the dignity of the court, the privacy of justices, the desire to stay above politics. (And I bet the grumpiest among them isn't feeling too friendly about exposure after President Barack Obama did a big with-all-due-respect on them about a controversial campaign finance decision that could "open the floodgates for special interests." Boy, you go to that big State of the Union party thinking everything's cool, and the president goes and calls you out.)

On the question of "dignity": Some bring up the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, a red herring and a scary one, given how that particular media mess spiraled off into la-la land. But the Supreme Court includes neither juries nor witnesses that might be bedazzled by the glare of such media attention.

Me, I'd argue on the side of letting the public see what goes on in the public's courtrooms, period.

Cameras are not allowed in our federal courthouse, which pretty much leaves local TV on the courthouse steps. This does not help show the important matters that play out inside those tall, imperious walls — why cases get dismissed, who goes to jail and who doesn't, why one guy gets life and another probation, whether on a given day the justice system actually involved justice. This does not inspire trust.

We've gotten an eyeful of sunshine around here lately, at least in the political world. We the people were able to watch — on the government's own public access TV channel, even! — as Hillsborough commissioners began unsnarling the tangle of whether to fire top employees involved in an e-mail scandal (among other alleged transgressions.) And yes, it was like seeing sausage made.

But in the end, access makes for better government. People got to see how their commissioners behaved. Maybe they got to thinking about whether their county indeed needs a mayor, having seen firsthand how things work, or how they don't.

Question, then: How do you understand what's going on when it's so hard to see inside?

Sen. Arlen Specter has introduced a resolution for cameras in the courtroom. Even more trust-inspiring would be justices heeding voices that call for openness, and letting the sunshine in.

Good for democracy? As it turns out, most of us already think so.

TV cameras should be allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court 03/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 8:42pm]

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