"We believe the public interest is best served by live television coverage of this particular oral argument," Lamb wrote. "It is a case which will affect every American's life, our economy, and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign."We already have the soundbites! And audio clips are played on radio and TV all the time. And we have text transcripts, from which we select quotes. So what is Scalia talking about? Perhaps it's that more people will pay attention if there is video, but how dare he hold his position of power and argue that his work should be monitored by fewer people? I think the real reason is that the Justices don't want us to see how they look as the sit for hours listening to arguments. They'd look grumpy and drowsy and puffy and wrinkly. They'd have to wear makeup. But even with makeup, they'd be far less camera-ready than the talking heads we're used to seeing on camera.
Lamb added that "a five-and-a-half hour argument begs for camera coverage." He said that "interested citizens would be understandably challeged to adequately follow audio-only coverage of an event of this length with all the justices and various counsel participating."
Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the idea of televised Supreme Court proceedings during a recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "For every ten people who sat through our proceedings, gavel to gavel, there would be ten thousand who would see nothing but a 30 second takeout from one of the proceedings" he said, "which I guarantee you would not be representative of what we do." Scalia added that such soundbites would leave viewers with "a misimpression" of Supreme Court operations.
I've blogged a few times about the Supreme Court going on TV:
In "Where is the 9,000-foot cow?"/"What do you think about Satan?"/"What did James Madison think about video games?," I disagreed with Justice Ginsburg who noted some weird questions that Justices have asked at oral arguments and used them as a reason to exclude TV. Yeah, we'd be able to make hilarious YouTube videos splicing together things that sound ridiculous ripped out of context. But it's important in America to make fun of people who wield power. If you can't take it, you don't deserve the power. Judges may like us to think that they merely humbly channel the power that inheres in the law, so there's no point in looking at them as if they have a will of their own. We'll be the judge of that.
In "If everybody could see this, it would make people feel so good about this branch of government and how it’s operating," I quote Justice Elena Kagan, who is quoted by Kenneth Starr in a NYT op-ed arguing for Supreme Court TV. I said I thought that despite the complaints about how people would use video in a superficial way that "we would become involved in the substance of the law and attempt to work through the actual legal problems at a higher level than we do now."
In "Why Congress should impose TV cameras on the Supreme Court," I said I thought TV cameras would put healthy pressure on the Justices who cling to their positions — which they hold for life under the Constitution — as they advance into old age.
So, I've been in favor of Supreme Court TV for a long time. Is it a good idea for the first televised argument to be the most momentous one? I'd say no, which is why I would recommend that the Court bring the cameras in now and make video the norm, before the big 5-and-a-half-hour Obamacare extravaganza.
(Link to the C-SPAN request via Instapundit.)