Leahy: Cameras Should Be Allowed In Supreme Court
11/29/11 7:34AM By Bob Kinzel  Download MP3
(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says the time has come for the U.S. Supreme Court to televise its proceedings. Leahy is sponsoring legislation that would allow the chief justice to permit cameras in the court.
VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Leahy is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and for several years, he's been a strong supporter of the so called "Sunshine in the Courtroom" Act.
Congress can't require the Supreme Court to televise its proceedings. So the legislation strongly encourages Chief Justice John Roberts to take this step.
Leahy says the court's review of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law passed by Congress last year, is the perfect time to start the new policy.
(Leahy) "I think it's extremely important. On this the American public, everybody, whether they're for extended health care or not, they have a stake in it and they ought to hear what the argument is."
(Kinzel) Some opponents of this policy argue that the presence of cameras could affect the proceedings of the court. But Leahy disagrees.
(Leahy) "In the trial court there's always the concern that people may start posturing for the cameras, that witnesses may act differently for the cameras. But in an appellate court you're standing in one spot. You have a time limit and you're dealing with facts, you're not dealing with posturing."
(Kinzel) And Leahy thinks it's important to make the work of the Supreme Court more transparent.
(Leahy) "Some in the court would like to keep the mysterious mystique of it. Well, we're a nation where we're not dealing with the 19th century. On something like the Supreme Court, where their decisions affect every one of us in this country, irrespective of party or where we're from or anything, else we ought to know what's being said."
(Kinzel) Cheryl Hanna is a constitutional law professor at Vermont Law School. She thinks there's a lot of value in having cameras in the Supreme Court.
(Hanna) "While we know a lot about what happens in Congress, we know a lot of what happens with the president, we really know very little about what happens at the court. And I think in the long run that's going to have a delegitimizing impact for the court."
(Kinzel) But Hannah says some members of the Supreme Court oppose this plan.
(Hanna) "I think they're particularly concerned, and legitimately so, that some media will just sound-bite a statement or two by a justice and that unless people can really see the whole argument, that they're going to really misunderstand what happens at the court."
(Kinzel) The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Affordable Care Act case in March.
For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.