There’s been a bipartisan push to put cameras in the Supreme Court – something the justices themselves have refused to allow.
But one Republican lawmaker says the Supreme Court hearings for nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson show exactly why cameras should never be allowed in the nation’s highest court.
“I think we should recognize that the jackassery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
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He predicted that cameras in the courts would change how cases are argued.
Instead of simply making the best legal argument, attorneys would be “not only trying to persuade you nine justices, but also trying to get on cable that night or create a viral video.”
He said the Jackson hearings offered a perfect illustration of what would happen.
Indeed, lawmakers on both sides have often used their question time to make long statements for the cameras.
Then, those same lawmakers have rushed out of the committee chamber for TV interviews booked because of their bombastic statements during the hearings, with Democratic lawmakers making a beeline for MSNBC and Republican members making the rounds on Fox News.
Sasse said lawmakers playing to the camera during hearings has changed the nature of the Senate – and not for the better.
“A huge part of why this institution doesn’t work well is because we have cameras everywhere,” he said. “Cameras change human behavior. We know this. … There’s a whole bunch of things humans can do if they’re not immediately mindful of some distant camera audience that they might be trying to create a soundbite for.”
Sasse’s comments come one year after Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced a bill that would put cameras in the Supreme Court, ending the tradition of the proceedings being documented only by sketch artists.
The two said cameras would allow Americans to see how cases are argued and decisions are made.
Under the law, if passed, the justices would have an “out” for certain situations. They could decide via a majority vote to turn off the cameras for cases in which recording may constitute a violation of due process rights for any of the parties before the court.
But other than that, they could be on television… and so would the attorneys arguing before them.
The move would be popular with the public: A 2018 poll found 74 percent favored televised Supreme Court hearings.
The justices themselves haven’t spoken out much about it.
But they don’t seem to be fans of the idea.
Former Justice David Souter said in 1996 that cameras would enter the Supreme Court “over my dead body.”
Not much has changed since.
Court-watching website Scotusblog reported that Associate Justice Elena Kagan told a House committee in 2019 that the idea hadn’t come up once since she was confirmed. She worried cameras could cause the justices to “chang[e] the way they ask questions rather than risk being misinterpreted on the evening news.”
In the same report, Associate Justice Samuel Alito said he once favored cameras in the courtroom — but since joining the bench himself, he “saw things differently” and now worries cameras could “undermine” the process.
Supporters argue that every state’s highest court allows cameras to some extent and that having them provides more transparency.
Sasse agreed with that part of the argument.
“I get their position that transparency is a virtue,” he said this week. “Transparency is a good thing.”
But in this case, he said he’s hoping that the justices continue to make their own decisions – and don’t have cameras forced on them by Congress.
— Walter W. Murray is a reporter for The Horn News. He is an outspoken conservative and a survival expert.