Gavel Grab

DOMA, Prop 8 Cases Reignite Debate on Cameras in the Supreme Court

Hundreds of people from across the country gathered at the Supreme Court this week as the justices heard oral arguments Tuesday and Wednesday on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. No more than a small handful of them were able to gain tickets to listen to the arguments.

The justices had an opportunity this week to educate the public on the inner workings of the court, and stream video of the arguments live. Instead, the justices remained “camera-shy,” releasing only an audio version of the arguments, says a Des Moines Register editorial.

Oral arguments are the only chance for Americans to get a glimpse into the court’s operations, but those are still restricted to the few people who manage to get a seat inside. The justices should take heed of the Iowa Supreme Court’s practice of live streaming oral arguments online, the editorial argues.

In 2008 when the Iowa Supreme Court heard the Varnum v. Brien case on same-sex marriage, the court allowed for extra public seating during arguments and distributed the video online. The U.S. Supreme Court should embrace this transparency, it states.

Walter Pincus, in a Washington Post column, strongly disagrees. He writes that allowing cameras in the Supreme Court would turn oral arguments into theatrical displays. Pincus calls the Supreme Court the last place in Washington, D.C. where there can be “serious, uninterrupted, give-and-take on controversial issues.”

Television has severely damaged the way Congress and presidential campaigns operate, Pincus argues. Legislators no longer openly confront each other on the facts during congressional hearings, and debates have turned into “seriatim speeches.”

Pincus warns that the justices would start playing to the cameras during arguments, and their habits on the bench would be overly scrutinized by the media. Don’t let television and the media ruin a place for “serious discussion of serious issues by serious people,” he argues.

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