Talk about an ice-breaker. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan appeared before the House Appropriations subcommittee for a standard kind of budget hearing, asking for increased funding for the Supreme Court’s budget. Just as the hearing got underway, though, Alito provided a bit of comic relief. Justice Alito knocked over a water glass and it shattered. That will cost you, sir.
At the start of a House hearing Thursday on the Supreme Court’s budget, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. knocked over a full water glass, which shattered on the witness table with a sound that would make any foley artist proud.
“Not off to a very good start,” Alito said with a smile, holding the bottom of the broken glass. “We’re deducting that,” a member of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee quipped from the Democratic side of the dais.
“We are rookies,” Alito told the lawmakers. “And I’m sure when I get back to the court I will hear immediately from Justice [Anthony M.] Kennedy and Justice [Stephen G.] Breyer that in all the times they appeared here they never broke a glass or spilled water.”
Who can’t relate to that? Even Supreme Court justices have klutzy moments. C-SPAN caught it on tape. Chairman Quigley said, “I’m resisting the urge to say that’s why we don’t have nice things.” Lol! I’m sure it was a welcome moment during an otherwise boring 80-minute budget hearing. This was the first time since 2015, by the way, that Justices appeared before the Appropriations Committee on their budget. They requested $90M for 2020, an increase of $3M.
Included in the liberal wishlist called H.R.1 is a mandate to include an ethics code for the Supreme Court, as well as other high courts. Democrats want a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Of course they do.
It would also institute an ethics code for the US Supreme Court that would apply to high court justices.
The bill is aimed at lessening the influence of big money in politics and it takes aim at Citizens United, the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, by calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the high court ruling that opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations and unions to influence elections.
The justices made some small revelations. In response to a question from California Democrat Norma J. Torres about what courts are doing about judicial misconduct, Kagan divulged that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is studying whether to have a code of conduct that applies only to the Supreme Court.
Currently, justices follow the code of conduct for federal judges, but the justices say they are not bound by it. Democrats have offered legislation (HR 1) to require that the justices would be.
The usual question came up about putting cameras in the Supreme Court for the public to watch the proceedings. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Mike Quigley, is in favor of that. The justices, though? Not so much. Alito voiced concern about the inevitable grandstanding and Kagan said the justices might “filter their questions” so as not to be taken out of context, say, in video clips. Those are legitimate concerns given the daily cable television coverage of Congressional hearings and press conferences.
The justices are satisfied with the money appropriators gave them this year to bolster physical and cybersecurity. They went through the well-worn defense of why they don’t want television cameras in the courtroom. Alito said the lawyers would be tempted to grandstand to have their soundbite on the evening news. Kagan said justices would filter their questions at the risk of being taken out of context.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley, who is in favor of putting cameras in the courtroom, told the justices, “We flub up a lot here, but we’re on C-SPAN, so our mistakes are live.” Before the Illinois Democrat said it, C-SPAN had posted a clip of Alito breaking the glass on Twitter.
Justice Kagan on cameras in the Supreme Court: "If the seeing it came at the expense of the way the institution functioned that would be a very bad bargain. I do worry that cameras might come at that expense." #SCOTUS pic.twitter.com/WWd8I8ZiQA
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 7, 2019
The justices said they are happy with their budget and willing to come back for testimony more regularly in coming years, Kagan said. Though repetitive in nature, maybe a bit more comic relief would be welcome in otherwise stodgy budget hearings.