Gavel Grab

Why Airing Health Care Arguments on TV May be 'Doomed'

New York Times reporter Adam Liptak clearly doesn’t think much of the Supreme Court’s resistance to televised oral arguments, especially in the federal health care case next March.

Yet Liptak does a solid job of cataloging the justices’ objections that probably have “doomed” a request by C-SPAN to broadcast the oral arguments, in a Times article entitled, “Supreme Court TV? Nice Idea, but not Likely.”

There is an view that the public won’t understand the oral arguments, or how they fit into the court’s work. There is concern the image of justices or attorneys might be tarnished if they change their ways under heightened public scrutiny. There is a worry about justices’ personal privacy. And some justices don’t want to see their remarks removed from context into a TV sound bite.

“The arguments against cameras are mostly rooted in paternalism or self-interest,” Liptak writes. “The justices’ real fear is probably not that their questions would be taken out of context but that they would be made to look silly, as they do occasionally say goofy things.”

How does he know? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a speech in which she alluded to instances of amusing comments from the most recent term, including one about a “9,000-foot cow” and another about whether smoking marijuana represented destruction of evidence.

Liptak reports, “Justice Ginsburg drew this conclusion: ‘From the foregoing samples, you may better understand why the court does not plan to permit televising oral arguments any time soon.’”

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