The upcoming Supreme Court case over challenges to the healthcare reform law has increased interest in legislation allowing cameras into the court room. While the bill on cameras has bipartisan support in Congress, it will not pass before oral arguments are heard in March, according to an article in The Hill.
The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this month (see Gavel Grab), but is still awaiting a floor vote. Proponents of the bill have tied it to public interest in the healthcare debate.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said the bill would “deepen Americans’ understanding” of the Supreme Court. There is a high level of interest in the case given its magnitude. Representative Gerry Connolly has called oral arguments on the healthcare reform a “seismic event.”
According to the article, C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts last fall asking for cameras to be allowed in the courtroom. Roberts has not yet responded to the request.
Critics of cameras are worried that publicizing courtroom proceedings might turn them into a “circus.” Tom Fitton, president of the conservative special interest group Judicial Watch has said that “the last thing we need in the Supreme Court is justices and lawyers mugging for the cameras. It’s already too political as it is.”
Other groups see cameras as a positive feature. They say that the court’s decision will affect everyone, and everyone has a right to hear the arguments. Courtroom cameras are becoming more commonplace around the country, and are even allowed in the Second and Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (see Gavel Grab).
The justices are also split over the issue. The newest member of the court, Elena Kagan, has called it a “terrific” idea. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has also expressed her support for televising oral arguments, as has Justice Samuel Alito. Roberts has not expressed a view on one side or the other, and has been hesitant to answer questions regarding cameras. The objecting justices have expressed their opinions the most strongly out of the nine.
Although it’s becoming unlikely that cameras will be allowed in the courtroom in March, Congress may make a decision on the bill in the coming months.