March 6, 2008

"It's not our job to educate the public. Our job is to decide vitally important cases under the Constitution."

That's how Chief Justice John Roberts answered a high school student who asked him about televising Supreme Court arguments and — the WaPo summary implies — suggested that it would be a good thing because it would educate the public. I have follow-up questions: Is it your job to deprive the public of useful, nonconfidential speech that you generate in the course of doing your job? If that deprivation is not your job, why are you doing it? If you, in fact, do many things that are not your job — like answering questions from high school students — why are you in this one case relying on the argument that something is not your job?

27 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

I agree with Roberts.

Maybe he could have said something like this.

"I agree with you it would be nice for people to be educated about the Court. However, 99.9% of the people would not watch or read the arguments, they would instead get their information from a 15 second sound bite cut by a news outfit whose sole purpose is to make money and not to educate." Therefore, if someone wants to learn, they will have to get up off their lazy asses and study the Court themselves.

Michael_H said...

I agree with Roberts. Television cameras would inevitably turn some the justices into media pandering "personalities".

Roger said...

Sloan: I am in philosophical agreement with your point, exceptfor this: there seems to be a very effective "black wall of silence" amaong the justices about court operations. I understand the need for confidentiality among the justices, but one result is we get anecdotal stuff from writers and journalists. I think there are some public education things that the chief justice could do to give the public a clearer understanding of court functioning (Its just that I don't know what it is at this point).

Fen said...

Echo. Just look what its done to our Congress-critters.

Ann, try it yourself. One semester without cameras, the next with two or three [and they must be obvious, like the ones in the press gallery]. See for yourself how different your students behave when they know everything they say and do is captured on film.

rdkraus said...

Agree with Roberts. The last thing we need is to turn the Sup Ct into another G-Damn reality show with Justices preening for the camera, which they will do, because they are HUMAN BEINGS.

Ann Althouse said...

You do realize that it's all already on audio recording?

JackDRipper said...

AA - Is it your job to deprive the public of useful, nonconfidential speech that you generate in the course of doing your job?

The audio recordings are available and free on the web so deprivation of speech is not the issue. How much more substance is available in watching body language?

The last thing we need is to turn the Sup Ct into another G-Damn reality show with Justices preening for the camera

Speak for yourself because Prof Althouse lives for these reality TV shows.

Sloanasaurus said...

I understand the need for confidentiality among the justices, but one result is we get anecdotal stuff from writers and journalists.

Reading about something (or listening) requires a person to use some extra thought. Television and pictures bring a totally different and distorted dimension.

Take Abu Garib for example. If reporters had wrote about it, we would have learned of a story where rogue soldiers took pictures of prisoners in demeaning positions. The story would have led to the discipline and cleaning up problems in the military prison system. This would be good journalism. Instead the photos were published by liberals with the intent of sliming the entire United States Military. These photos were used by Al Qaeda to motivate their followers who then engaged in prolonging what was a fruitless war for them. The liberals use of Abu Garib photos as propaganda prolonged the war and led to hundreds and thousands of needless American and Iraqi deaths.

El Presidente said...

Television corrupts everything.

That is why the socialist paradise jams the signal from the Norte Americanos.

MadisonMan said...

vitally important cases

Important to whom? The word that leaps to mind is hubris.

Zeb Quinn said...

The presence of cameras in the courtroom changes the dynamics, and never for the better. Justice suffers, and justice is by far the most important business at hand. How can that be quibbled with?

rcocean said...

Someone earlier got it right. Bring in the cameras and you'll have justices as Media personalities.

Further, it gives power to the MSM to use the clips to mold opinion. Imagine if Thomas fell asleep, or Ginsburg made some left wing speech about how bad racism is; it'd be all over the news. Completely irrelevant, but a chance for the MSM to paint justices as goodies and baddies.

And dummies like Chris Matthews or Oberloon would have a field day.

rcocean said...

And since the oral arguments are available in transcript and in audio, why do we need TV?

Besides, the only real important thing is the opinions and secondarily the debate/horse-trading among the Justices (which no outsider sees) - so again, why do we need TV in the oral arguments?

Thorley Winston said...

I agree with well, pretty much all of the previous posters – no video cameras in the court and let’s work on getting them out of Congress as well – particularly during congressional hearings.

Roger said...

To be clear about my earlier post, I took what I thought was Ann's larger point about the need for government agencies to educate the public to mean much more than merely televising procedings. Televising arguements has little educational value, IMO, other than adding a visual dimension; but discussions about deliberations, internal processes, how opinion writers are selected, granting of cert etc would be very helpful. And perhaps an open acknowledgement that SCOTUS is very much a political body as well as a judicial body.

Fen said...

Ann, try it yourself. One semester without cameras, the next with two or three [and they must be obvious, like the ones in the press gallery]. See for yourself how different your students behave when they know everything they say and do is captured on film.

Also, make sure they all know you will be posting vid clips to the blog, so they have certainty that there is an audience judging them.

And have a TA monitor your behavior, to give feedback on how it changes you.

Simon said...

I'm ambivalent on the "educate the public" issue, but I disagree with the premise that cameras at oral arguments would help educate the public about the court's work. To my mind, quite the contrary: it "would encourage a lack of understanding of how the court operates, massively overemphasizing the role of oral argument in the court's process. Reading the briefs and the opinion below, or the conference, or the research and writing process are essential to what the court does; oral argument is often useful, but it is not the sine qua non of what the court does. Indeed, a far, far stronger case could be made for televising (or providing live audio of) opinion announcements: that, at least, ... [is] representative of what the court does."

save_the_rustbelt said...

Does Roberts know where his pay check comes from?

Simon said...

Roger said...
"I think there are some public education things that the chief justice could do to give the public a clearer understanding of court functioning (Its just that I don't know what it is at this point)."

Perhaps he could write a book that describes how the court operates and digresses with enlivening personal and legal anecdota. Wait...

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"You do realize that it's all already on audio recording?"

Well, exactly. So what value would be served by cameras that would not be equally-served by same-day audio in all cases? Apart from allowing certain bloggers to write catty and critical comments about the Justices' appearences, that is. ;)

Kirk Parker said...

"You do realize that it's all already on audio recording?"

TV killed the radio star...

Palladian said...

I think cameras need to be taken out of everywhere.

Roger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger said...

Simon: sad to say that any book on the supreme court is probably never going to be read by the general public (unless the title was considerably jazzed up). I was thinking more about the CJ appearing in their robe with the gold stripes in front of a fire place--much like FDR. (Does Roberts wear the Rehnquist designed CJ's robe?)

Simon said...

Roger, re the robe: he doesn't, but I think he should! I understand why he doesn't, because the story behind why WHR got the stripes added (at least as it's told by SOC) makes it a fairly personal thing that wouldn't apply to another justice. But I always thought that the four stripes on each arm represented the four justices that sit either side of the Chief on the bench, and I think that under that rubric, it's a neat idea. So I think that Roberts should have affirmed on other grounds and adopted the robe.

I know what you're saying about the public's attention span - how can one take seriously demands that the public needs to know more about the court's processes when 99.9999999999999% of the public have never read an opinion that has resulted from that process? - but Rehnquist's book's really an easy read. It's a shame he never did an audio book version of it - perhaps that's a project for a former Rehnquist clerk. I'm hoping to see Rick Garnett at the FedSoc Student Symposium this week, I'll suggest it to him. ;)

AllenS said...

Anybody remember the OJ Simpson trial?

Balfegor said...

If you, in fact, do many things that are not your job — like answering questions from high school students — why are you in this one case relying on the argument that something is not your job?

Probably because, as you write:

high school student who asked him about televising Supreme Court arguments and — the WaPo summary implies — suggested that it would be a good thing because it would educate the public.

If that's right, isn't he just responding on the same terms? It may be a good thing to educate the public. And he may occasionally educate the public by answering questions from high schoolers. But that it is a good thing to educate the public is not a sufficient reason to put cameras in. Educating the public is not his job.

I'm sure he's got other reasons, apart from it not being in his job description.