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Should Congress force the Supreme Court to allow TV cameras?

Dec. 9, 2011

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

The U.S. Supreme Court conducts itself in a way that projects a certain image: intellectual, perceptive, dignified.

A far cry from Judge Judy in her TV courtroom, hollering at defendants from the bench.

Which is why the justices are worried about a proposed law that, if passed, would end the half-century ban on televised Supreme Court hearings. The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011, being debated by the Senate now, would require television coverage of any hearings at the Supreme Court that are open to the public.

If the law passes, nobody is quite expecting the court to change overnight.

“I was trying to picture Ruth Bader Ginsburg turning into Judge Judy,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on ABC News. “It’s not going to happen.”

But there is concern about a slow eroding of decorum in the nation’s highest court, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy. Attorneys might start hamming it up for the cameras in an effort to get on television rather than conducting courteous, respectful arguments. Perhaps the justices might even take part. In 2008, Justice Kennedy told Congress: “If you introduce cameras, it is human nature for me to suspect from time to time that one of my colleagues is saying something for a sound bite. Please don’t introduce that insidious dynamic into what is now a collegial court.”

The bill is being debated as the court gears up to hear challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the national health care law passed last year, which opponents have vigorously argued is unconstitutional. With so many across the country concerned about the outcome of the case, proponents – like former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter – say that the hearings should be accessible to anyone who wants to watch via live TV.

“The issues which are coming up in the Affordable Care Act really ought to be subject to really close public scrutiny,” Specter said. “I believe the legitimacy of the court itself is at stake for the people to understand what the court does.”

Specter was a vocal supporter of cameras in the Supreme Court during his time in the Senate, and beyond the health care law, he believes the public simply has a right to know what goes on in the court. “It’s not [the justices’] domain, it is the public’s domain, and [the court] ought to be accountable to the public,” the Christian Science Monitor recently quoted Specter as saying. He also said that, since the court chambers hold only 250 people, it was “selfish” of the court to keep Americans from watching the judicial process unfold.

The bigger question is whether Congress is allowed to tell the court what to do in this situation. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress some power regarding the Supreme Court – the Senate must approve the president’s nominees for justice, for example – but some court experts say it cannot tell the court how to run the show in its courtroom.

The Constitution created a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government to keep any one of the branches from overreaching its power. If the legislative branch (Congress) passes the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011, and the executive branch (President Obama) signs it into law, then the judicial branch (the court) would have to comply.

But some experts – like Supreme Court advocate Thomas Goldstein – think that Congress shouldn’t force the issue. U.S. courts are slowly opening up to more public scrutiny, he told Congress. Lower courts are beginning to allow televised hearings, and the Supreme Court has begun providing same-day transcripts of entire hearings. Eventually, he said, the court will decide on its own to allow television cameras.

“I would not provoke the constitutional controversy of requiring them to do it,” he told Congress.

What do you think?

Should Congress pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011? Do you think the law would change the way the justices and lawyers conduct themselves? If so, how? If not, why not? Do you agree with Sen. Specter that the public has a right to know what goes on in its court? Do you agree with Thomas Goldstein that Congress shouldn’t force the issue? Join the discussion!
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Comments
1/4/2012
Montgomery Tx
Alyssa M
Metzger/Montgomery
I do not think congress should pass the Cameras in Courtroom Act of 2011. If cameras were aloud in the Courtroom everything would change, it would all look like a show. The people envolve with the cases would become to dramic. This bill will give one brach more power than the other branches. These Cameras will be too much of a distracton and take away from what is actually going on in the cases.

1/3/2012
Irving/TX
Austin M.
Bradley/Nimitz
The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 should not be passed. It would lead to the court having too many distractions. If people really want to be able to view the court, then there should be no more than two cameras set up to record the whole hearing and stream it over a website. I don't think that having automated cameras would distract or disrupt the court and it would still allow people to view the hearings.

1/2/2012
Montgomery/Texas
Cameron
Metzger/Montgomery
First of all the Supreme Court doesn't try people for murder they try to see if something is unconstutional and even if they did those people are in custody and for the time being lost their rights. We need to these cases and precidings for ourselves to see and form our on opnions if something is indeed constitutional or unconstitutinal

12/28/2011
Irving/TX
Sherin
Bradley/Nimitz
If the Congress passes the law regarding the allowance of TV cameras in the courtroom, then there would be no privacy for the issues held in court. Many of the Justices are against the decision of having cameras in courtrooms. The high-ranked Senator proposed this issue, saying that the discussions held in courtrooms should be transparent before the public. If the law was passed by the Congress, and the President signs it, then the Courts have to go along with the law. But signing the issue into law would change the way the lawyers and justices behave in court. They will have to use their words wisely as it being watched live by millions of people. According to Senator Specter, I agree that the public has the right to know what goes on in the courtrooms. But then the opponents consider this as a violation to their privacy. But I also agree with Goldstein, who says that the lower courts are allowing televised coverages, and the Congress should not push for a change overnight.

12/27/2011
Irving/Texas
Jennifer N.
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't think Congress should force this law to pass. People tend to act differently on camera. Some get nervous in front of the camera, others might do something unprofessional just because it's national public television. Like Justice Kennedy said, "If you introduce cameras, it is human nature for me to suspect from time to time that one of my colleagues is saying something for a sound bite." I agree the public has the right to know what goes on, but Goldstein said that the Supreme Court has started providing same-day transcripts of entire hearings. That's pretty public if you ask me.

12/23/2011
Irving, TX
Ali
Bradley/Nimitz
If the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 passed, the traditional etiquette and dignity of the Supreme Court would inevitably be in danger. For the courtroom to be completely opened up to the public by TV would be a terrible mistake. The Court needs to be able to debate without worrying about millions of eyes watching them, to be able to make decisions based on the Constitution rather than on public opinion. If people really are concerned about what is going on in the courtroom, they can visit Washington. Either way, Congress should not be trying to force the issue upon the Supreme Court anyway. If this law passes and the Supreme Court complies, thereby expanding the powers of Congress, who knows how far Congress will push its powers in the future?

12/22/2011
Irving/TX
Jerin
Bradley/Nimitz
In my opinion, Congress should force the Supreme Court to have TV cameras inside its courts. When the government was initially formed, each branch was supposed to check the powers of each other. After a few years, the Supreme Court, in my opinion, started going beyond its normal abilities in such a way that states began to complain about it and even the national government had problems with it. This is mainly due to the reason that the Supreme Court does things in secret so that no one would know what was happening. This is not sitting well with the spirit of the constitution since the constitution promises transparency. So, the supreme court should allow TV cameras in court.

12/22/2011
Irving/Texas
Joan
Bradley/Nimitz
I strongly oppose to the idea of Congress passing the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. This law would definitely change the way justices and lawyers conduct themselves. They will start to behave in a way that will affect how things are being dealt just because they want to look good on television. They would not be acting like themselves and act what they are supposed to act. Yes, I agree with Senator Specter but I am sure that no where in the Constitution does it say that the public is required to know what is going on in the courts. It is a traditional thing for the Supreme Court to handle things privately. A lot of Americans do not know much about politics, it is not like things will instantly turn around and more people will be involved in politics once cameras are placed in the courtroom. Too many people just do not care about politics. I agree with Thomas Goldstein who states that Congress shouldn’t force this. Congress itself has the power to decide on whether or not this law should be implemented.

12/21/2011
Montgomery, Texas
De Andre
MontgomeryHS/Mr. Metzger
If I was a suspect or convict to be sent to the Supreme Court for a case I wouldn't plan or expect to be flashed by camaras and my case to be know to the nation without to consent of me or the court itself. T.V cameras ,or anything else of the sort within the same catagory of public media, are not supposed to be forced on the Supreme court because doing so goes against the privacy of the convicted and to court. Some cases need to be heard, viewed, and analysed just case needs to be. In some cases the public needs to see what is the issue of which the case is about and to learn about how the Supreme Court works.

12/21/2011
Irving/TX
Nam
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
In a way, I believe that passing this Act would allow the public to have a better understanding on what is going on in the court. People should be more inform of what is going on in and out of politics. However, passing of such crucial laws might harm rights of privacy. I believe that a person's right should never be taken away. Justices and lawyers are to conduct themselves the way they please. They have as much rights as any other. Justices and lawyers are best when they are passionate on a issue. Yes, I believe that the public should have some sort of understand of what is happening. However privacy is also a important factor in this issue. So basically it's seesaw issue for me.

12/21/2011
Irving/Tx
Azaria
Bradley/Nimitz
Congress should not pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. The constitution does not give Congress the power to tell the Supreme Court how to run their court. It would be unconstitutional for Congress to tell the Supreme Court that it has to allow cameras in the court. If the Supreme Court wants cameras, then they can have cameras; but if the court doesn't want them, then Congress has no right and no authority to make them. The system of checks and balances only allows the branches to make sure that the other branches don't over stretch their powers. It has nothing to do with telling the other branches how to run themselves, and that is exactly what the Act is going to be doing. While the public does have a right to know what is going on in the court, it does not have the right to force the court to do something it does not want to do. In time, the court will open it's doors on its own. There is no need to make this difficult by forcing the courts to open their doors prematurely.

12/20/2011
Irving, TX
Ashley Bo
Bradley/Nimitz
I do not think that Congress should pass the Cameras in the Courtroom act of 2011. The law would change since meetings will not be the same. People will start feeling like they are constantly being watched on their every move. It will be awkward. I do not agree with the Senator Spector because the people should know what is going on with other ways like posted articles. Congress should not force this issue. It is only safe for there cases if they are secret. There will be too much chaos going on.

12/20/2011
Irving, TX
Cynthia G
Bradley/Nimtz
I personally do not believe that congress should pass the Courtroom Act of 2011, even though people do need to know what is going on. With cameras rolling, people do tend to behave differently, so if the cameras were banned then yes justices and lawyers would approach things from a different perspective. Yes, we should know what is going on, but if cameras were there the court would have one thing on mind, entertainment. There are some items that can be addressed publicly, but there are some that should be done behind closed doors.

12/19/2011
Irving, TX
Jesse
Bradley/Nimitz
We as Americans do have the right to know what the Supreme Court does, but the Court also has the right to conduct their meetings in secret. However, this would also affect the justices's behavior because they'd eventually want all their opinions to be heard on television to get more publicity for themselves and their views. This probably wouldn't happen overnight, but would most likely be a gradual, unnoticeable change. Soon it would turn into a glorified campaign on who is the best rather than helping the country decide what fits the Constitution. Also, this way, if people could actually see this meetings, then the public might start pressuring them even more to make decisions that they do not want make. They are all human beings susceptible to this pressure, not machines. This is why these meetings are best kept a secret, to preserve the actual duties of the Supreme Court in general.

12/18/2011
Irving/Texas
Carmen
Bradley/Nimitz
In my opinion I do think they should pass the Courtroom Act, but I think the people ahould be able to vote on what cases they want to hear. We should be able to see whats going on in the Supreme Courts. I do think the cameras would make things more dramatic from the laywers and justices. I think they would be worried about how the people viewing it would react tot he decisions and whats said.

12/16/2011
Irving/TX
Fatema J
Bradley/Nimitz
The Congress should not pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act. The Court is a place where arguments and controversial issues are held, not a TV show that public can watch. Although, the public has the right to know what is happening in the Court but that does not mean the Congress has the right to undermine the Court by passing out such laws. Also, it is the chief justices that decides for the solution over a certain matter and not the public. The Supreme Court deserves to have privacy, and the allowing the cameras would be unjust.

12/16/2011
Irving/TX
Angelica R
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't think the act should be passed, simply because the justices and lawyers will act the way the people would want them to. If they know people are watching then they're going to want to please the people and be something that they probably are not. I therefore, don't agree with Sen. Specter.

12/16/2011
Irving/Texas
Shelby P
Bradley/Nimitz
Although we do have the right to know what is going on in the Supreme Court, I don't think congress should be able to tell them what to do. I think the law would change how the justices conduct themselves because they would start to fight for the spot light, i mean seriously have you ever watched Judge Judy, that lady goes out of bounds, and that is a reason why she is so well known. I agree with Senator Spector that we should be allowed to know what is going on in the courtroom, but i believe it to an extent. I also agree with Thomas Goldstein that Congress should not force the Supreme Court to be on television if they do not want to.

12/16/2011
Irving/TX
Michael P.
Bradley/Nimitz
Congress is allowed to pass certain bills if they view them as a necessity to society. I believe the cameras in the courtroom act will raise awareness of the people appointed to the supreme court; it may even make it more appealing to citizens. But the idea is still a hard topic to state weather it is best for citizens or the supreme court. We will never know if the act is good for America or not until it actually happens. Viewing what little our society knows about the supreme court, it would be very educational to the American Citizens. But at the same time it could definitely influence the decisions the supreme court members make and could ultimately end up hurting society based on the pressure of conforming to the desires of the people rather than acting on what is best for America. I believe the justices and lawyers would definitely change the way arguments and decisions are made based on the fact that all of America is criticizing their every move. I definitely do not believe forcing the issue in a piecemeal fashion is best for the country. I believe we need to discuss this topic as a country on a national level before making this decision. The American people need to view their opinions on the matter to the higher levels of government and the government needs to shape the wishes of the people in a way that it does not harm and disrupt the system. It is very different when congress is making laws on channels like c-span as opposed to the supreme courts broadcasting their decision on an issue deciding weather or not those laws are constitutional. I believe we may have many incidents where decisions may be made out of social pressure rather than reasonable thought will occur if this act is passed.

12/16/2011
Irving/TX
Mariah B.
Bradley/Nimitz
Congress should not enforce the law to mandate cameras in the courtroom because it is a violation of what the Supreme Court stands for. The Framers specifically decided on and wrote the Constitution in private, away from the plain citizen's eye; the document and the basis of our government was meant to ensure everyone's personal liberties, but be an institution in which those higher up-judges, senators, etc.- decide certain matters without the pressured glare of our nation's citizens. Of course it is important for the court to adhere to common law and to not pass a corrupted decision on a case that the public would disagree with, yet the Supreme Court is not one that has to cater to the public by allowing public viewing of all of its hearings. The people of the United States can "understand what the court does," not by scrutinizing the court by watching every hearing and watching its every move, but by simply researching the roles of the justices. Congress shouldn't force the issue because it cannot check the Supreme Court by making the court be televised. To say that would be unconstitutional. If there is a chance that the Supreme Court will decide on their own to be on TV, like those of the lower courts, then they should be able to freely decide this.

12/16/2011
Irving/TX
Juan M
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the congress should not pass the Courtroom Act of 2011. One of the main reasons is that knowing they will be on camera they will act differently. Like Anthony Kennedy said, I believe that the attorneys might take it too far and act differently. Knowing that many people would watch regardless of what it is, it might pressure the attorneys, and they'll end up making a mistake they might regret later on. At the end it might end up like any tv courtroom that's on everyday. Even though I do believe that the citizens have the right to know what goes on in the courtroom, I believe that airing everything that goes on in the Supreme court is an invasion of privacy for the defendants.

12/15/2011
Irving/Tx
Vanessa B.
Bradley/Nimitz
Congress should not pass the Courtroom Act of 2011. It should not be passed so that there won't be chaos. I think the law would change the way the justices and lawyers conduct themselves. They would not be the same because they would be distracted by the cameras. I do agree with Senator Specter that the people should know what is going on in the court room but not through this. The Supreme Court should decided whether they want the cameras present or not. They should be the ones to choose what goes on in their courtroom.

12/15/2011
Irving,TX
Diana C
Bradley/Nimitz
I really don't see why they shouldn't pass this law. Everything should be conducted the same regardless of the cameras there. The justices and lawyers should do their job the same, or are they hiding something the pubilc shouldn't know? If they have nothing to hide, there shouldn't be a problem. On the other hand, it would created a big controversy over all the court cases' decisions. The people have the right to know what is going on in their country but it would be for thier own safety to keep this cases a secret.

12/15/2011
Irving/Tx
Karla V.
Bradley/Nimitz
I think that Congress could pass the law but that the channel should be limited to whoever wants to see it. Like if a person wants to see that channel, they should purchase it from the government or ask for it from their cable provider. But I do think that some lawyers and justices are going to become very aware of the camera and might end up being a little dramatic. They will gain this new found fame and it will go to their head. The public, on the other hand, does have the right to know what goes on in these courts. We have the right to know the process that they take and how the decisions are made. Congress shouldn't force this though. We have done just fine until now without them, so there is no rush.

12/15/2011
Irving/Texas
Jesse G.
Bradley/Nimitz
The Courtroom Act should not be passed for the betterment of this country . We would be opening up Pandora's box if this law actually did get passed. We have a Supreme Court to decide arguments or controversial issues that we as a society cannot agree on. If this law somehow got passed, and we were able to actually view what our justices say and how they view certain issues. We would see that our justices would have to change themselves to comply to what the public would consider be politically correct, thus drastically effecting our judiciary system for the worse. Like how it is now, our justices (the most respected and qualified people our judiciary system has to offer) are able to debate amongst themselves without any regards to what the popular choice in society is, and hammer out the right decision for our society. But, if this law were to be passed its human nature to suspect that many justices bite their tongues, and not give their honest opinions. Because they would be afraid of stepping on peoples toes.

12/14/2011
Irving, Tx
Jose R.
Bradley/Nimitz
The Congress should not pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. Television is used as a form of entertainment, and applying it to the Supreme Court would be miserable. The public would not take the court seriously as it would compare it to other court shows. It would have a dramatic affect on how the justices and lawyers conducted themselves. The justices would still be similar in how they acted but the lawyers would use it more like a promotion, to get attention. By being in television, they would be exposed to the world and base it more on marketing themselves. That's obviously not what lawyers should be focusing on. I disagree with Senator Specter with this idea that the public should know what goes around in the court. I support the idea that the public should have an opportunity to know what happens but not by televising it. Well I disagree with the idea of using television to promote that. If the public is seriously interested, then they should go to Washington D.C. and attend it personally. Thomas Goldstein has a point, the Congress should leave the situation alone for now and see how it works out in the future. If the Court is leaning its self for television the court meetings, then its up to them. If it happens, the Court will know when and how to handle it. The Supreme Court should have privacy, and cameras would completely ruining that point.

12/14/2011
Irving/Tx
India B.
Bradley/Nimitz
The Cameras in the Courtroom Act should not be passed. It's human nature to put on a show for attention and that kind of behavior would destroy the court. The court needs to be a place of business, not a reality TV show. Yes, the public has a right to know what goes on in the court, but that doesn't give Congress the right to undermine the court's authority over their own domain. And it is the justices domain. If it were the public's domain, we'd have no need for justices. The public comes to the court to decide matter they can't find a solution to alone. The Supreme Court should be the ones to decide if/when they want camera in their court and they should be the ones to deal with the consequences. The justices on the Supreme Court are there for a reason. They live and breathe the law, they've dealt with human nature all their lives and see the effects, and they should be the ones to decide how their courtroom is run.

12/14/2011
Dallas/Texas
Lauren
Bradley/ nimitz
I agree and disagree to letting the supreme court allowing cameras in the court room. I agree, because people can get more involved with the government and they can see how things work within the Supreme court. I disagree, because if people really wanted to get involved then they could go to the court when it is in action. And the cameras can be a huge distraction during a court case.

12/14/2011
Irving,Tx
Rosa L
Bradley/Nimitz
Congress should not pass Cameras in the Courtroom Act. If Congress were to pass the Act then surely some aspects of how the Courts work would change. For one thing the chief justice could be pressured into giving the viewers what they want to see. Second the lawyers could be tempted to give a performance that enhances the public of liking them. I agree with Sen. Specter that the public has the right to know what goes on in the court which they can go see it in person or read the transcript over it. The Supreme Court should not be forced sooner or later cameras will be allowed, but it will take time for it to be applied.

12/13/2011
Irving/TX
Luz V
Bradley/Nimitz
The basis of our American government is that the population has the ability to affect what politicians do. As such, the Supreme Court should comply with the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 to make sure that the citizens of the United States have the ability to take a part in their rulings by knowing what those rulings are and what the reasoning is behind them. It could be possible that the members may give in to a bit of pressure from their viewers, but that's what is needed – they need to be able to make rulings in accordance with the law while keeping the people it will affect in mind. Critics worry that members of the Supreme Court and lawyers will take having the cameras around as an opportunity to change and work for fame, this would be a risk but they have to trust that the members know their place as sophisticated policy-makers and stay that way in order to allow the people to watch.

12/13/2011
Porterville/CA
John
Lewis
It's an interesting notion. I can see both sides of the argument, and I really can't take a side on it at this time. I want the Supreme Court to be open and accessible to the public through TV, but the risk of turning the Court into a sitcom seems to loom like an axe above the issue.

12/12/2011
Irving/ TX
Sara
Bradley/Nimitz
The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 should not be passed at this time. I believe if this law was passed now that it would eventually change the appearance of some of the justices or lawyers. Some might start to feel greedy and want their time to shine on national TV, so they might start to spice up the stories. Add more input or stretch the truth a bit. I'm not saying their whole demeanor would change, but maybe the way they do things or represent themselves just to get their fifteen seconds. In a way I understand where Sen. Specter is coming from. Why shouldn't the public know how the Supreme Court acts and handles business. But being televised isn't the way it should be done. Maybe scripted out and put on a website or something around that form of communication. I do agree with Thomas Goldstein that this pondering thought shouldn't be forced. It's not something to be stressed about right now. There are more important things that should come first, so just let it unfold and see what the courts do in the near future.

12/12/2011
Irving/Texas
Kirstin F.
Bradley
I don't think they should pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. I think that if a case is serious enough to make it to the supreme court then it should be kept private to protect those at fault. I think the laws would definitely change the way justices and lawyers act because no one wants to get bad publicity or be hated in the public eye so everyone would start to act and judge the way people wanted them to instead of what was right. I do feel the public has a right to know what is going on but they do not need to be so involved that they can watch someones trial on TV like its some common television show such as law and order. I don't think this issue needs to be forced because it hasn't been fully thought through. The public can read about the cases if they want to know but they do not need to be televised so that the camera affects the judgement of all parties involved.

12/12/2011
Irving/Texas
Marcus A.
Helen Bradley/Nimitz High School
Congress should not pass the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. Congress has already showed signs of controlling virtually every aspect of the Supreme Court – from deciding how many justices should be appointed to confirming which justices fit specific qualifications. Furthermore, by placing all nine justices and lawyers under the TV spotlight, the public will inevitably see a change in court proceedings. The chief justice might be hesitant in sharing his true opinions as he could possibly receive nasty remarks later that same day. Lawyers may become wrapped around the idea of earning their credibility via live media, eventually working to build their own careers rather than helping others from the good of their hearts. However, Senator Specter is correct in that the public has a right to know what happens in the Supreme Court. But that is why we give people access to the reports in the Library of Congress and why there are now same-day transcripts of court actions. Like Thomas Goldstein said, the Supreme Court will work out the issue on its own. The Court should have time to think through the potentially new law, for there are always pros and cons that come with choices. There is more to reality behind the court doors than meets the eye.

12/12/2011
Montgomery
Maddie H
Metzger/ MHS
I think banning television shows from being produced out of court cases would be bennificial. Some people being held on trial might act differently because they know they are being watched on television. Yes, it is good to show people what goes on in court room but is what their seeing the real way crimminals and the judge would act?

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