Charles Lane Against Cameras in the Supreme Court

by Ed Whelan

In today’s Washington Post, Charles Lane, who used to cover the Supreme Court for the Post, argues against televising Supreme Court proceedings. (I’ve made a broadly similar case.) Here’s an excerpt:

The court performs [its] role best when maximally insulated from political pressures. Televising oral argument would subtly but significantly puncture that insulation by exposing the justices and the attorneys who argue before them to the same risks of personal criticism and, indeed, ridicule faced by elected politicians.

Over time, this would create incentives for participants at oral argument to play to the crowd or, alternatively, to play it safe. Either way, live video coverage could distort a process that must be conducted without any concern for short-term public reaction.

Does the risk seem trivial? Perhaps, but it’s still greater than any incremental benefits televising the proceedings would produce.

Audio recordings and verbatim transcripts are already available, as are majority and dissenting opinions. How much more understanding is to be gained from seeing the faces of the justices and attorneys live and in color?

Lane’s position is, I’ll note, highly unpopular in the media world that he inhabits and especially among Supreme Court reporters (whether because they have an ideological disposition in favor of maximal immediate disclosure or because televising proceedings would make their jobs much easier). So it’s particularly to his credit that he’s willing to stake out that position. (I’ll add more generally that I’ve frequently found Lane to be a source of uncommon good sense at the Post.)

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