July 27, 2012

Brian Lamb asks Justice Scalia why he's "so sensitive."

Why are you judges so sensitive about what they say when they have life tenure?

Scalia says everything he has to say is in the opinions, and it's fine for people to "paw over" the opinions, but he doesn't need to be there while us animals do that.

And here he is on cameras in the Supreme Court:

Basically, his point is the public would get "educated" if they'd look at the video the right way, which is watch all of the arguments on all of the cases, including all the really boring things about ERISA and so forth. But since the video would end up in edited sound bites, that would not be educational, and therefore we shouldn't be allowed to get our hands — should I say paws? — on it.

My position, you may remember, is that video would impose some accountability on the Justices, who do, as Lamb noted, have life tenure and may very well stay beyond the point of competency. Obviously, the written opinions aren't much good in this regard, since the Justices have excellent help writing the opinions.


deborah said...

Although transcripts can be 'sound-bited,' I think Scalia is correct that video-taping the proceedings would take away from concentration on the matter at hand, what with worrying about the camera, how they'll come off in the countless replays, etc. Not to mention the natural show boats who would relish the camera time.

Bob Ellison said...

Quiet here. I, for one, enjoy the posts about judge questions.

I don't think people often ponder the "why do we do it this way" questions WRT things like life tenure and appointment of judges. The latter sometimes, since some judges are elected. But why, indeed?

Your point about SCOTUS justices having help writing opinions is important. They could all be senile or idiots, and we'd have almost no way of knowing. They could be choking each other in the halls, but we've got no video.

We give too much deference to the institution of courts' honor. I could imagine a very different system wherein judges couldn't get away with acting like tinpot dictators and had to show competence or get fired.

Palladian said...

Cameras in the Congress seem to have done nothing to "educate" the American people; in fact it seems that Congress started to veer completely out of control right around the time that cameras were permanently ensconced in the US Congress.

ndspinelli said...

Brian Lamb is the best interviewer I have ever seen. It's all about the subjest and NOTHING about him. He is the anti-narcissist in a self absorbed media culture.

Bob Ellison said...

ndspinelli, Brian Lamb is a treasure, and Tim Russert was a superhero. Different approaches, both effective.

Lem said...

I'm with Scalia..

Keep the YouTube clips out of the Supreme Court.

They are not there to do pet (paw) tricks.

Bob Ellison said...

I would add Jim Lehrer to the list of greatest interviewers.

Lem said...

The Supremes, as opposed to what we have heard or watched on the idiot box, are not entertainers ;)

Palladian said...

For a great demonstration of how good Brian Lamb is, watch a clip of Lesley Stahl interviewing Scalia on 60 Minutes, every high-school newspaper-level question an embarrassing and futile attempt at "gotcha" journalism, all delivered in in her nasally, hectoring, car-horn voice.

Lem said...

You put cameras in the classroom and popularity polls pop up.. who looks better and sound more intelligent.. material for Comedy Central. While the people that go to them to get some remedy get the short end.

Keep the cameras with American Idol where they belong.

rcocean said...

Scalia is completely correct. It'd all end up with some Dumbass like John Stewart "satirizing' Scalia or some one conservative judge on Comedy central.

I thought the whole purpose of the questions during oral argument was to help the SCOTUS judges render an opinion. If so, how is our seeing on TV important?

rick said...

Scalia has it exactly right - no cameras. To me, Scalia's comment about the 15 second soundbite was a back handed slap at the doofus media. Scalia had seen that fish before.

Amartel said...

Court is for civil disputes and criminal prosecutions. Not for education, edification, or entertainment. These things are outside/beyond the scope of the court's mission. Do not expand the mission of the court. Bad idea. Expanding the mission of government is nearly always a bad idea.

Interesting that Scalia is the one who has taken up this position most vociferously because he, out of all of them, would be the one who would be best on TV.

Cameras in court will be intrusive on the process in ways both obvious and insidious. Look how cameras affected the outcome in OJ. All that showboating. And it will do nothing to educate the general public. As someone pointed out above, cameras in Congress have not resulted in any net education of the public. It will be chopped up and fed to the public in easily disgestible comedy bits because that's what we the people like. Also, did the bad Congresspeople get exposed and voted out by the "sunlight" provided by the presence of cameras? Why, no, I think some of them are still hanging about. The status quo protects its own, and so shall it be with cameras in the courtroom.

Cameras in court would be great for law professors and law students, of course. But you all can do what I did in law school and go to court yourselves on your own time and watch and learn.

virgil xenophon said...

Given the "politics" involved, I tend to agree with those who would eschew cameras in the SCOTUS--for all the reasons already given. I'm not so sure about lower/"inferior" courts. ALL court proceedings in KY have been automatically vidio taped for at least 20 yrs(the better to help court recorders/provide true record)and it doesn't seem to have overly distorted proceedings one whit.

Hagar said...

Television corrupts and ruins all that it touches.

Whatever Works said...

For a while I was conflicted on the cameras in the Court issue -- but then I actually attended an argument at the SCOTUS and now firmly believe there should NOT be cameras there.

The simple reason: imagine what a group of mostly senior citizens looks like when they sit for an hour listening to people talk. It's not pretty. Sure, they ask questions, but no individual justice is constantly in dialogue. And when they're not -- which, individually, is the large majority of the time -- they do what most people would do. They lean back, hunch over, rock back and forth, twist side to side, close their eyes. Most of the time they seem as if they're not paying any attention at all -- until they jump in with a question that devastates everything the lawyer's said for the last 15 minutes.

But the image they give is not a flattering one. RBG, in particular, looks very frail and sits drooped over, seemingly only semi-conscious (until she interjects with a razor-sharp comment).

I like the aura of mystery and austerity surrounding the Supreme Court, and I think it adds something to our respect for and conception of it as an institution.

tiger said...

1) I like him - or at least his public personna.

2) He looks like he could have been in 'The Godfather' or been Patton Oswald's dad.

3)The USSC gets 'excellent help' with writing their opinions?

EMD said...

Sensitive? I'm not sensitive. I'm prickly.

Ralph L said...

did the bad Congresspeople get exposed and voted out by the "sunlight" provided by the presence of cameras?
Speaker Wright was deposed, thanks largely to Newt's late night speeches.

Lance said...

My position, you may remember, is that video would impose some accountability on the Justices, who do, as Lamb noted, have life tenure and may very well stay beyond the point of competency.

I think that goes to Scalia's point: if the public watched all the proceedings, they'd have a baseline on which to judge small losses of competency. Absent that baseline, pundits will do "15-second takeouts" of the little slips a justice normally makes in order to undercut whichever justices they don't like. They already do this with Thomas: he chooses not to participate in oral argument, and the lefty pundits accuse him of dodging attention to hide a supposed lack of intellect.

sdharms said...

If cameras impose accountability because we could see when age has set in and thus incompetence, then how come cameras in Congress are not clearing out the ranks, such as Harry Reid (even sound bites show his age and incompetence)?

Paul Brinkley said...

I found Scalia's initial point compelling: if the argument for allowing a medium in court is to raise public understanding, and a medium will in fact set a public's understanding *back*, then it makes sense to bar it. I can't argue with that. Any contention would have to be with whether a given medium will set understanding back.

On that note, Scalia goes on to say that "takeouts" from the judges' written opinions or from their audio recordings are likely to be taken with the required grain of salt, but that video won't be. While I agree that video would be more compelling than audio or text, I'm not so sure that it's compelling enough to make that critical difference in which way public understanding goes. And Scalia seems to treat that as a widely accepted truth.

Palladian brings up Congress as a case example. Agreed! Scalia could have scored major points by alluding to that, and how it not only hurts public understanding, but hurts the quality of debate in that branch.

But consider this: as a result of seeing video of Congress, it also become a widely accepted truth (at least, between Palladian, me, and anyone else who watches Congress) that that video can't be taken as illuminating, precisely because of the effect it has on Congress. ...what effect will that widely accepted truth have on the evolution of media in Congress? Who's to say that someone won't build on this truth to come up with a better way to show the public what goes on in government, that not only illuminates the public, but also preserves or even improves Congressional discourse?

If that happens, how applicable will that approach be in SCOTUS?

If that problem is not made evident enough, might introduction of TV in SCOTUS help drive it home and bring about that change?