Scalia Remains Adamant Against Cameras During Court Proceedings

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of Virginia high-schoolers Wednesday that he still opposes TV cameras in the Supreme Court because they would provided a distorted picture of the process. He didn't have anything nice to say about TV cameras in criminal trials, either.

Journalists have been pushing the courts to allow cameras in federal appeals courts, including the high court, arguing that it would be instructive to the public and keep faith with the pledge of a public trial.

For the latest installment of a C-SPAN series, Students and Leaders, that was on camera, Scalia said: "My friend [and C-SPAN founder] Brian Lamb is always after me to vote to allow [Supreme Court] proceedings to be televised." He added that he would support cameras if he thought people would watch the proceedings "gavel-to-gavel," but he was convinced that the vast majority wouldn't.

Scalia said that 95% of the time, the court is dealing with "dull, lawyerly stuff," so seeing that would be very educational. But he added that for every person who watched coverage gavel-to-gavel, "there would be 100,000 who would watch a 15-second take-out from the C-SPAN feed. And I guarantee you that the 15-second take-out would not be characteristic of what we do. It would be man bites dog, so why should I participate in the miseducation of the American people?"

He said he would have "even greater objections" to televising the trial courts, telling the students that even civil litigation was a "gut-wrenching" process and that criminal prosecution was "even worse."

"To make entertainment out of real people's legal troubles is quite sick,” he added. “You want to entertain the public, hire actors and put on Perry Mason or something. I don't think it is right to make enjoyment out of litigation, civil or criminal."

To view clips of Scalia's responses on the issue, click here and here.

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.