Anyone watching Senate hearings on Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination comes away with several impressions: One, committee Democrats are desperate for something, anything, to hold against the nominee from central judicial casting. Today, they may ask about the 20% tip Gorsuch once gave a Domino’s delivery boy as proof the judge is against the little guy.
Two, senators are quite good at bloviating on-camera, even with time constraints. And three, this Gorsuch guy is a real smart talker, careful, thoughtful, reasoned, principled and an attentive listener. He’d make a good judge. Oh, wait. He is already. And his record demonstrates the same admirable traits.
At one point Amy Klobuchar asked him the predictable evergreen about allowing cameras into SCOTUS arguments. Congress, which has altered the Court’s size from six to five to even 10, regularly considers Court cameras and with equal regularity does nothing.
Peering through the bright lights that torture anyone in such hearings, Gorsuch joked he’s getting a lot of experience with cameras lately. “The lights in my eyes are a bit blinding,” he said.
Then, about cameras, Gorsuch added in a judgely manner: “I come to it with an open mind. It’s not a question I confess I have given a great deal of thought to.” Fake news headline: ‘Trump Court nominee confesses!’
It’s an article of professed faith for journalists and Democrats that the presence of TV cameras makes everything better. You know, transparency and the people’s right to know yada yada. Several D.C. journalists, who wouldn’t have to wait in line to attend SCOTUS arguments if they could watch on TV, expressed shock that the idea was not foremost in the Coloradan’s mind.
Gorsuch said many wise things in these hearings. He was noncommittal about cameras, like most nominees. Open-minded until they take their lifetime seat, at which time that idea withers. Advocates point to C-SPAN as an argument that TV is good and educational. C-SPAN is indeed a national treasure, as are its video archives searchable and going back to 1986.
But here’s a news flash: Those aren’t C-SPAN cameras in Congress. They’re controlled by the House and Senate and can only show the recognized speaker, whose pixeled words are carefully crafted to play to cameras for evening-news sound bites.
Congress, unlike the Court, is an elected body allegedly subject to constant public opinion. Court decisions are not subject to anyone’s opinion but its own collective wisdom. Their decisions are final, period, no matter what anyone thinks. Think Roe v Wade.
And, oh, by the way, anyone can already often hear audio of Court arguments.
So, before we turn the Supreme Court of the United States into ‘Judging With the Stars,’ let’s pause. “How will the plaintiff respond? We’ll be right back after these messages for psoriasis relief and probiotic colon cleansers.”
As an antique who remembers LBT — Life Before Television — I can honestly report audio is quite sufficient. President Roosevelt lead the nation through World War II with radio fireside chats. Sure, we’re accustomed (or perhaps addicted) to quick camera cuts, colorful explosions and shouting that attract more eyes for programming squeezed between commercials.
But what exactly does the camera crowd think the nation would see in televised SCOTUS arguments? A Hail Mary gibe? Walk-off rhetorical homer?
TV needs heat, visual conflict, gotchas, serial cliffhangers every 12 minutes. Watching Court arguments, half the time you expect someone to check for pulses on motionless, silent justices. They could care less about ratings. They don’t wave signs, scream or laugh derisively.
Which is exactly as it should be.
This is the Supreme Court, as in no higher legal forum. Gorsuch will be only the 113th person in the nation’s 240-year history to become a justice. Better watch him on TV while you can.