A Case of Agoraphobia Judicia?

WASHINGTON — Amidst a new, and bipartisan, legislative push for same-day audio for Supreme Court oral arguments, the top high court justice says a bigger public for those proceedings may not be such a good thing.

The issue is surfacing as President Donald Trump prepares to announce his nominee for a soon-to-be-vacant seat.

Chief Justice John Roberts (pictured) signaled in a June 29 interview that he was definitely opposed to cameras, explaining that he thought there was potential for it to “alter the argument process.” But he was not done there. He suggested he did not think televising Congress was necessarily a good thing, either (with, presumably, all due respect to C-SPAN).

Roberts explained that some senators had told him they thought TV had a deleterious effect.

Roberts even wonders if there isn’t too much public in the proceedings as it is. “Just the number of spectators we have in the courtroom, you worry about counsel kind of playing to the audience and, I have to be honest, worrying about the Justice’s doing that.” (To read Roberts’ full comments, go to multichannel.com/July9.)

In proposing new legislation last week, Sens. Chuck Grassley (RIowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said transparency should be the rule, rather than the exception. “C-SPAN welcomes the bipartisan appeal to the Supreme Court by Senators Grassley and Leahy for same-day release of oral argument recordings,” Bruce D. Collins, C-SPAN general counsel, said of that effort.

Roberts said in his interview that the judiciary was already “the most transparent branch of government.”

C-SPAN still hopes the court will consider allowing more people to follow the legal proceedings, particularly given the potentially historic rulings that could come from a court with a more conservative justice in the seat held by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is leaving at the end of this month.

“The cameras in the Senate chamber are an extension of the public galleries, just as cameras in the Supreme Court’s chamber would be an extension of its public seating,” C-SPAN co-CEO Susan Swain told Multichannel News. “We believe these institutions belong to all Americans, who should have the right to follow their public debates, beyond the small number who can make the trip to Washington.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.