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Courtroom Cameras Requested for Health Care Ruling

Nearly 50 news media organizations sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., asking for TV cameras to be permitted in the courtroom when a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act is announced.

“There is a strong interest nationwide in the Court’s opinion and any comments by a member of the Court that may accompany its announcement,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in the letter,  signed by the media organizations, according to a Politico article. “Such access would allow the public to be informed of the Court’s ruling in a timely manner.”

Earlier this year, the court  declined a request from C-SPAN  to permit TV coverage of oral arguments over the constitutionality of the federal health care law (see Gavel Grab).

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Supporters of TV Cameras at High Court Persevere

Brian Lamb, who founded the C-SPAN public affairs network, lamented on his last day before retiring the Supreme Court’s reticence to allow TV cameras into its courtroom.

The Supreme Court declined a request from C-SPAN (see Gavel Grab) to permit TV coverage last week of oral arguments over the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the federal health care law.

Lamb told Politico, “As it stands now we have graphic artists sitting in there, characterizing what’s going on in the court… you have print journalists sitting in there writing down everything they say, you have transcripts that are online fairly soon after the session, you have an audio service… it’s almost like watching them on television, so why not the real thing?”

Journalist and columnist Jules Witcover, a longtime chronicler of American politics, agreed and quoted Lamb in a Chicago Tribune op-ed entitled, “Televise the Supreme Court.”

Witcover noted Lamb’s dismissal of concerns attributed to justices, that TV cameras and possible grandstanding for the cameras could change the nature of the court’s proceedings.

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Editorial Decries Tarring Judges With ‘Activist’ Label

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the federal health care case this week, some observers began framing an “activist” critique to apply to the justices in event of an adverse outcome. And that, a Washington Post editorial warned, is a mistake.

“If the justices strike down the individual mandate to purchase health insurance,” the editorial portrayed  some liberals as reasoning this week, then these justices “will prove themselves partisan, activist and, essentially, intellectually corrupt.”

While it is disappointing when justices on either ideological side seem predictable, the editorial said, the central constitutional issues in the case are not easily resolved:

“[W]e … think there’s a kind of cynicism, or at least intellectual laziness, in asserting that this is an easy or obvious call — that no justice could possibly strike down the mandate out of honest, reasoned conviction.”

The court is weighing the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s signature domestic accomplishment. The editorial, after summing up some of the most contentious legal issues,  found “the government’s argument is strong enough to carry the day. But it is not, as we said, a slam-dunk. We wouldn’t assume anyone who disagrees is a hack.”

The editorial was entitled, “Civics lessons from the Supreme Court.”

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‘Epic Constitutional Showdown’ Begins at Supreme Court

With Supreme Court oral arguments in the federal health care case under way, join us on Twitter [link:!/justicestaketo follow our live tweeting of coverage.

In a politically charged environment, the Supreme Court on Monday began hearing three days of oral arguments over the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the federal health care reform.

The high court faces an “epic constitutional showdown,” Bill Mears wrote in a CNN report entitled, “The U.S. Supreme Court: How it works.” Most Americans don’t have any idea how the court functions, he added:

“That’s too bad because the high court’s impact on Americans is incalculable. When disputes arise, the nine justices serve as the final word for a nation built on the rule of law. They interpret the Constitution and all that it brings with it: how we conduct ourselves in society, boundaries for individuals and the government, questions literally of life and death. ”

Given the media clamor over the potential outcome and “essentially unprecedented” public attention to the case, “there is a lot more at stake,” two state judges wrote in a essay:

“[T]he legitimacy of the judicial process is also being tested.”

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To Track the Health Care Arguments, Some Key Resources

With Supreme Court oral arguments in the federal health care case under way, join us on Twitter [link:!/justicestake] to follow our live tweeting of coverage.

The Supreme Court rejected requests to permit TV broadcasting of its three days of scheduled oral arguments in the blockbuster federal health care case that began today, and live coverage was not allowed from the ornate chamber, as a New York Times article reported:

“No Twitter messages will be allowed. No one in the room will be permitted to make a telephone call. There will be no BlackBerrys or laptops or iPads to blog with.”

Given those “pre-digital” limits, here are some ways to keep up with the latest coverage: The Wall Street Journal was operating a “live” blog of the arguments. SCOTUSblog was providing oral updates as well as links to other coverage. C-SPAN was providing coverage including radio airing of oral arguments expected in early afternoon. The Washington Post was furnishing extensive coverage, and How Appealing Blog had links to widespread coverage.


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Court Won’t Permit TV Coverage for Health Care Arguments

The Supreme Court will not permit live TV coverage of its upcoming, high-profile oral arguments over the federal health care law’s constitutionality. The court said it would, however, release same-day audio recordings of the proceedings.

In November, C-SPAN asked the Supreme Court to open its doors to TV cameras — and millions of viewers — for the marathon health care oral arguments that are scheduled March 26-28.

“We believe the public interest is best served by live television coverage of this particular oral argument,” Brian P. Lamb, C-SPAN’s chief executive, wrote to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “It is a case which will affect every American’s life, our economy and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.” C-SPAN was joined in its request by other news organizations.

On Friday, an Associated Press article said, “The justices have never allowed cameras inside the courtroom and decided not to make an exception for the health care case, despite what the court called ‘extraordinary public interest.’”


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Supreme Court Cameras Bill won’t Pass Before Healthcare Case

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.


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CNN on Cameras: Supreme Court Policy Is an Outlier

Time is ticking away until the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the monumental case deciding whether the new health care law is constitutional. Many will anxiously await the Court’s decision, and C-SPAN has requested permission to televise all five-and-a-half hours of oral arguments. Despite repeated demands and questions, the justices have not permitted cameras in the courtroom.

Supreme Court justices have cited concerns that cameras would taint the dignity of their proceedings. Chief Justice John Roberts voiced his worries over the effect cameras may have on lawyers and judges.

According to a CNN article, the Supreme Court is in a minority nationally in forbidding camera coverage of open hearings. Two-thirds of state supreme courts have admitted cameras to cover oral arguments. In the Illinois Supreme Court, videos of hearings from cameras operated by state employees are posted daily. New York’s Court of Appeals has provided TV coverage since 1987. Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Brown wrote that “the public’s response, according to those state supreme courts that provide those video broadcasts, borders on the exuberant.”

Many foreign courts are also welcoming live broadcasts of court proceedings, according to the article. Canada’s Supreme Court has televised its hearings since the 1990s. The Supreme Court of Britain is allowing the arguments on the extradition of Julian Assange to be broadcast to the public. A New York Times editorial praises the British court for its actions, citing how a TV broadcast can “boost the court’s reputation and confidence in the legal system.”

The U.S. Supreme Court appears highly reluctant to alter its policy on cameras. Even without live broadcasts, Chief Justice Roberts has said courts are the  ”the most transparent branch of government.”

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Supreme Court Assumes High-Profile Role for Election Year

The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to take on the role of a major player in next year’s elections, having agreed to decide a trifecta of white-hot, highly partisan issues that all involve the federal government’s power.

The court’s decision Monday to review Arizona’s restrictive law for cracking down on illegal immigrants (see Gavel Grab) added to a docket already featuring high-profile cases over the new federal health care law and dueling political redistricting maps in Texas. News media reports suggested the Supreme Court itself could become a campaign issue in 2012.

“The Supreme Court, which has faded as a major campaign issue in recent years, could make a resurgence in 2012: The justices just keep adding to the hot-button political issues they plan to tackle before the election,” wrote reporter Josh Gerstein for a Politico article entitled, “Supreme Court ‘an enormous issue’ for 2012.”

The three cases not only will help frame the national political debate, but they will influence the direction of policy “on one of the most contentious issues of the election: the power of the federal government,” he wrote.

“It’s certainly the most politically explosive term I can ever remember, and what’s most interesting is it comes right on the eve of the election,” said Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice. Read more

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Middle Ground Urged on TV Cameras at Supreme Court

There might be a middle way to move the Supreme Court toward allowing TV cameras in its courtroom, a witness told a Senate panel holding a hearing on the topic.

Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog and a lawyer who has argued before the court, was suggesting a route that would thread a compromise between those who advocate Supreme Court transparency and those who say action by Congress could trample on the court’s autonomy.

“One compelling thing that [Congress] could do is to pass a unanimous resolution urging the court to do it, to give them a sense of what the senators pointed to as the great public interest in televised proceedings,” he said, according to a US News & World Report article. “But with no promises, ultimately, that the legislation would be upheld.”

Televising hearings before the high court isn’t a new idea, but it’s gotten a burst of attention since the court agreed to take up a challenge to the new federal health care law — and C-SPAN asked to televise the five and a half hour proceeding. The Senate hearing was held on a bill filed this week to require the court to allow televised proceedings (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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