Judge Judy this isn’t. As the Supreme Court concluded three days of Oral Arguments on the validity of President Obama’s signature legislation, the health care reform law, there’s no shortage of opinion about why most Americans never got to see any of the action.
“The Justices are appropriately conservative about the inner workings of the court,” Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst and author of the Supreme Court book The Nine told TVNewser between live reports Wednesday. “They all have great reverence for the institution and don’t want to damage it in any way, and that is a very understandable and appropriate concern. But, they are also doing the people’s business, and the people should be able to see it.”
What the court does do — largely because of C-SPAN’s relentless commitment to asking for more access — is to release audio recordings of the arguments at the end of every week. In the case of the high-profile health care case, it was every day.
“I think they are clearly softening their position on audio,” Toobin says. “They already tape-record it, so even streaming it live on the web would have absolutely no impact on their proceedings, and I bet within five years they will be doing that. Video is a completely different story, and I am less optimistic about that.”
Admittedly, the Court has reason to withhold video coverage of oral arguments, even if those reasons are based more on fear of embarrassment than anything else. A former clerk to a current Supreme Court Justice told us that internally there were two issues with cameras in the high court.
The first is that TV news will condense hour-long arguments into pithy soundbites. The second: that it would place too much emphasis on oral arguments, which are less important in an appeals court such as the Supreme Court than in lower courts.
NBC News chief justice correspondent Pete Williams tells TVNewser the “soundbites” issue really doesn’t hold water, and that there are likely other reasons why the Justices are reluctant to add cameras.