Cameras should be allowed in federal courts
A YouTube video surfaced last week that, if the Supreme Court of the United States were interested in transparency, would have been of interest to no one. Yet the poorly shot, shaky video of a snippet of a Supreme Court argument was a sensation because it was the first video ever of the justices actually hearing a case.
The court, which bars the presence of any electronic devices during arguments, naturally ordered a review of its screening procedures after the video was posted.
Procedures that the court should review are its own prohibitions against televised proceedings in federal courtrooms.
The October argument featured in the YouTube snippet would have been a great candidate for a televised proceeding. It was McCutcheon v. FEC, which seeks to eliminate all contribution limits in political campaigns, thus raising the prospect of a return to those halcyon pre-Watergate days of anything-goes. The video apparently was posted by a protest group, 99rise, which opposes the elimination of contribution limits and the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.
Historically, justices have opposed televised arguments because of the fear that the cameras would influence the behavior of lawyers or even the justices. Advances in technology long ago eliminated that prospect, however. And of all the courtrooms in all the land, few are guided by more formal decorum than the Supreme Court, where anyone playing to the cameras quickly would be rebuked.
Almost all Americans are affected by the Supreme Court's decisions. They should not have to wait for yet another generation of justices to provide access to the courts in the 21st century using 20th century technology.
Chief Justice John Roberts should start the process of allowing cameras not only at the Supreme Court, but at federal trial and appellate courts across the nation.