Gavel Grab

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.

“More than half a century ago, when television cameras were first allowed at presidential news conferences, direct attribution of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s remarks were barred until an edited transcription was released,” Witcover wrote. “But that prohibition was soon abandoned, with no harm to Ike or to the Republic. The public deserves nothing less regarding the court.”

The public hasn’t paid so much attention to the Supreme Court since the Florida 2000 recount case, Witcover wrote, yet “[w]hile virtually all other aspects of the American political system at work can today be observed directly by the citizenry, either live or on taped rebroadcast on television, the Supreme Court in session remains essentially in the dark.”

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