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Justices Split on Cameras

An informal three-judge "panel" of the Supreme Court was not eager to introduce cameras into their court anytime soon, though two of the three saw benefits and seemed willing to proceed with caution.

The House Wednesday passed a bill that would expressly allow cameras in federal district and appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, at the discretion of the judge.

The discretion of Justices Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy appeared to be that, if cameras are allowed at all, cameras should be introduced gradually and only after independent study of public attitudes about it.

At an American Bar Association seminar Thursday, Day and Kennedy were open to the possibility of cameras in the high court, less so to criminal courts, while Kennedy was not included to make the court "part of the national entertainment network." Of course, O'Connor is retiring as soon as her replacement can be confirmed.

New Chief Justice John Roberts has said he is open to considering the issue.

Earlier in the seminar, O'Connor had used an illustration that seemed to argue for allowing cameras. She said there was a case of election fraud tried in the Ukraine. The trial was on TV and people were able to see how the decision was made. A new election was conducted without bloodshed, she said, in an area where it was not clear that would be the case.

Sounding like, well, a judge, Breyer said there were arguments for and against cameras. He said some cases could present "wonderful" teaching opportunites and he would like for more people to see them.

But he said he was worried that if the Supreme Court took cameras, it would become a standard and lead to cameras in all courts. He was concerned about the affect on witnesses and jurors, as was O'Connor.

Bryer also said that cameras could give a skewed view of the work of the Supreme Court, given that oral argument is only 2%-5% of the case, with the rest written filings. He said viewers would tend to focus on the human story of the "three people in front of them," not the "boring legal issue" that affects millions.

"A decision of this kind of issue, that carries threats as well as benefits, should be decided after serious research and study," he said.