Reason TV wonders why the Supreme Court remains obstinate about allowing television into its proceedings, and manages to take a lot of detours through an RV, a bow tie, and Katie Couric’s colon without answering the basic question of what it would gain anyone. My friend Nick Gillespie certainly has a lot of fun with the issue, and he rightly skewers some of the responses from sitting justices as either haughty and arrogant or wheedling and whiny, but that basic question just never gets addressed. What exactly would we gain from televising the interplay between the Supreme Court and the lawyers who bring cases to their bar?
The principle of transparency is key to a free society, but television does not equal transparency. The Supreme Court doesn’t hold its interrogatory sessions in secret; those are public, and usually attract regular media attention in more significant cases. Their deliberations are private, but not even Nick wants to televise those; the question is whether to televise the public proceedings. The only value in that, it seems to me, is in training attorneys to present cases to the Supreme Court, which they can do by attending the sessions themselves. Otherwise, the value in having millions of people see the facial twitches of Ruth Bader Ginsburg rather than just reading the publicly-available transcripts of the proceedings seems an awfully minor value for transparency advocates to champion.
Part of my skepticism comes from having watched the OJ Simpson trial fifteen years ago. Cameras didn’t improve the quality of justice; in fact, cameras turned the trial into a farce (or perhaps more of a farce than it otherwise would have been), with attorneys mugging for the camera and the media blowing everything out of proportion, including the fashionwear of the participants. Television didn’t equal transparency then, and it doesn’t now. The only non-transparent part of the Court’s process is the deliberation, and the last thing we need is nine justices turning the Supreme Court into Jersey Shore.
What do you think? Take the poll:
Update: Be sure to read Nick’s response (especially the title, which gave me a laugh). I agree with him that the televised Simpson case showed the world the prosecutorial ineptitude in that case, but would that have happened in a normal courtroom setting without the cameras present? Maybe, maybe not, but we wouldn’t have had Judge Robert Ito delivering tearful soliloquies about criticism of his wife and the like. And even if we had, the courtroom was packed with reporters who would have rushed it to the news anyway.