Skip to main content

Scalia: TV Would 'Miseducate' People About Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who concedes he joined
the court as a supporter of televising oral argument, continues to oppose it, he told
C-SPAN in an interview
that will air Sunday at 8 p.m. He says TV would turn
court proceedings into unhelpful, uncharacteristic sound bites, and adds there
is no First Amendment compulsion to open it to cameras.

C-SPAN has long pushed for cameras in the High Court.

In an interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb on Q&A,
Scalia says that he does not believe that the purpose of televising the
hearings would be to educate the public, the reason he first supported it.

"If I really thought it would educate the American
people I would be all for it," he told Lamb. If the public sat down and
watched oral argument "gavel to gavel," he said, no one would ever
again ask him why you have to be a lawyer to be on the Supreme Court.  He
suggested such extending viewing would demonstrate that the court didn't spend
most of its time contemplating its navel about whether there should be a right
to abortion or other issues.

Instead, he said, the court is usually dealing with the Internal
Revenue Code, patent law and "all sorts of dull stuff that only a lawyer
could understand or get interested in."

That, he said, would educate the public. But what TV would
do, he says, is turn it into a 15-second or 30-second sound bite. "Your
outfit would carry it all," he said to Lamb, whose outfit carries
gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate, but what most would see are
take-outs that are not characteristic of what the court does.

Lamb pointed out that people now see newspaper stories that
are themselves takeouts from the proceedings. Scalia maintained that was fine,
and was different from the impact of video, saying the same for audio, which
Lamb points out is released by the court and excerpted. Scalia said he
continues to be a strong free speech advocate, but added: "The First
Amendment has nothing to do with whether we have to televise our

Congress has periodically introduced legislation to require
TV coverage of the court on a case-by-case basis, with no success to date.