CNN reports that in his Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Neil Gorsuch purports to have an “open mind” about cameras in the court room, presumably even oral arguments in the United States Supreme Court. That’s great. But I am concerned about how long his commitment to transparency will last.
Tenure on the Supreme Court seems to sway Justices away from the pro-camera side. President Obama’s appointees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan both testified in their confirmation hearings that they supported the concept. That was then. This is now. Both Justices have rethought their positions. And they’ve decided cameras in the Supreme Court now all of a sudden isn’t such a great idea.
With all due respect, that position is ridiculous. And what it makes it worse is the rationale – that Justices would play to the camera and go for sound bites. I guess I have no way to prove that is false, but neither of the Justices can prove it’s true. And I’d submit this link as Exhibit A.
Exhibit A is a link to the Ohio Supreme Court’s archive of oral arguments. The Ohio Supreme Court has live streamed oral arguments to that court for years. Take a look at any of the archived videos. Do you see Justices playing to the cameras or trying to generate sound bites? Do you see lawyers grandstanding? Spoiler alert – you won’t. Because it doesn’t happen. And don’t forget, Ohio Supreme Court justices are elected. So they’d have some incentive to do just that. United States Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. They have no incentive to play to the cameras.
Supreme Court Justices are serious people. They aren’t likely to act like reality TV stars just because a couple of cameras are installed in the courtroom. But the track record is that they get camera shy. Let’s see if Justice Gorsuch falls in line. I hope not.