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Bill would open high court to cameras

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Sep 26, 2000    

Bill would open high court to cameras

  • Senator’s concern over ‘super-legislature’ prompts move to televise arguments

The conflict between the Supreme Court and the legislative branch is heating up again with the introduction of a bill to permit cameras inside the nation’s highest court.

In the wake of similar legislation pertaining to federal courts, the Senate bill sponsored by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) would for the first time show oral arguments before the nine justices to the television-viewing public.

“Since the Supreme Court has assumed the power to decide cutting-edge issues of public policy virtually as a super-legislature, the public has a right to know what the court is doing,” said Sen. Specter in a written statement. The bill, introduced on Sept. 21, supports coverage of open sessions unless a majority of the court decides the coverage will violate the due process rights of the parties.

Specter defended the legality of his bill by noting the precedent set by the court recognizing the right of access afforded to the public and press in certain cases. Since people now acquire information primarily from televsion, he said, the court may have impliedly opened the door to cameras. The senior senator from Pennsylvania also emphasized the importance of keeping an eye on the court because of the magnitude of its decisions. He cited a few recent cases in which the court found in favor of state sovereignty, including a recent case in which the court found Congress’ authority to regulate gun-free school zones under the commerce clause was unconstitutional.

“The court has been a strong point in our historical development, but the court has expanded into areas traditionally reserved for Congress,” he said.

One justice provided a brief glimpse of how the court may respond to such a bill. In 1996, Justice David Souter told a Senate subcommittee, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

(S. 3086) TH

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