In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscribers only), Peter G. Verniero, a former justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, attempts to rebut all the arguments against televising the public proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of them are easily rebutted. For instance, that cameras “would make justices more visible and thereby increase security risks,” or merely compromise their ability to “enjoy living in relative anonymity.” As Verniero points out, anyone who wants to inform himself of what the justices look like can certainly find out now.
But Verniero doesn’t seem to realize that this argument cuts against him too. Anyone who wishes to know what is said in the Supreme Court during oral arguments, or when decisions are announced, can read the argument transcripts (now usually available the same day), press accounts, and the judicial opinions himself. The most Verniero can muster for the value added by TV cameras is that we’ll be able to see the justices’ facial expressions and hear their tones of voice.
Frankly, that’s not much justification. And Verniero dismisses too easily some of the other concerns of camera opponents–that both lawyers and the justices themselves may change their behavior with cameras present, and that the media will give most Americans misleading “sound-bite coverage of complicated cases.” Most citizens, after all, will not tune in to gavel-to-gavel coverage on C-Span. If you think Linda Greenhouse is bad, just wait until anchors like Brian Williams can throw five seconds of Justice Scalia’s aggressive questioning up on America’s TV screens.
The onus in this argument should be on those who want the cameras in the courtroom, not on those who want to keep them out. Fulminating as Verniero does that “the Court’s policy against televised proceedings is on the wrong side of history” doesn’t make the case at all. Wrong side, shmong side. The way the Court operates now isn’t broken, and it doesn’t need fixing.