Bench Memos

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A Specter Is Haunting the Court


The Washington Post reports today that Arlen Specter has again introduced his bill (S. 344) to require the Supreme Court to “televise its proceedings.” Here’s the complete substantive text of the bill:

“The Supreme Court shall permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.”

Congress may have the raw power to do this—after all, it once cancelled a term of the Court during Jefferson’s presidency, effectively putting the justices out of business for about a year—but it can only be described as an assault on the Court’s independence, given the so-far solid majority sentiment of the justices against this step. And it is difficult to know where in principle the Congress’s power to prise the Court open to public view would find its limit. Could the Congress say that included in the “proceedings” that must be televised is the justices’ conference, currently a closed-door affair to which no one else is admitted but the Nine themselves? Today, “all open sessions.” Tomorrow, what?

In the unlikely event that this makes it through Congress, President Bush should veto the bill.


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