Supreme Court hearings should be broadcast

Even by U.S. Supreme Court standards, this week's hearings on President Obama's health reform act are a historical milestone. It's arguably the biggest case the court has addressed in decades.

Sadly — and despite passionate, polarized national interest — only about 300 people each day witnessed these hearings live. With due respect to news reports, that's a tragedy.

These hearings should have been televised live.

They deal with landmark legislation and how it fits — or doesn't — with America's Constitution. No matter how the court rules, this case will have massive effects on health care, individual rights and the balance of governmental powers.

If that does not warrant giving Americans a front-row seat for access to a proceeding already considered public, what does?

Worst of all, there is no good reason for no live coverage. That became patently obvious even before testimony started Monday. Late last week the court announced it would release audiotapes of the oral arguments immediately after they concluded each day.

Huh? If the court is going to allow audio taping and then release it — unedited — shortly after it just transpired, there is no logical reason not simply to broadcast proceedings live.

At best, the arguments for no live coverage echo what Minnesotans have heard in their decade-long battle to join 36 other states in live broadcasts of court proceedings. Among those are:

  • Court participants — mostly lawyers or judges — could play to the cameras. Sure they could. But as evidenced in those 36 other states, that seldom happens. And if it does, especially on a national stage for America's highest court, couldn't other justices tell them to drop the drama? Not to mention many of the justices often are televised giving speeches or even congressional testimony, so camera presence isn't new to them.
  • The equipment and staff will cause disruptions. Not only have three dozen states effectively addressed this myth, but Supreme Court coverage would likely come via CSPAN, which has covered Congress for years without causing interruptions.
  • Impacts on witnesses. Again, experience in those 36 states says otherwise. Plus, the Supreme Court hears appeals, which come from attorneys, not witnesses.

Honestly — and especially for the nation's highest court — televised hearings would be a great way to educate more rank-and-file Americans about the courts system. And without a doubt, this week would have attracted more students than any case in recent memory while setting the stage for a ruling anticipated like no other.

— St. Cloud (Minn.) Times

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