C-SPAN’s CEO Brian Lamb sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, making the case for camera coverage when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments over the challenge to health care reform and its individual mandate.
Lamb wrote, “We believe that the public interest is best served by live television coverage of this particular oral argument. It is a case which will affect every American’s life, our economy, and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. Additionally, a five-and-a half hour argument begs for camera coverage — interested citizens would be understandably challenged to adequately follow audio-only coverage of an event of this length with all the justices and various counsel participating.”
He added, “For these reasons we ask you and your colleagues to set aside any misgivings you have about television in the Courtroom in general and permit cameras to televise live this particular argument.”
Cameras have never been allowed into the Supreme Court, and when he was still serving on the high bench, Justice David Souter once famously said that if they were ever allowed, they would have to “roll over my dead body.” Since he left, there has been hope among advocates for cameras that younger justices will be more receptive to the idea, but Roberts has given little indication that he would try to do so. He voted with the majority in the most recent showdown over cameras in federal court, when the Supreme Court nixed the idea of allowing televised coverage of the Prop 8 trial. The given concerns, however, were over the impact it would have on witnesses, a moot point at the high court.
The Supreme Court does from time to time release audio tapes of oral arguments, such as those in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, but those are on a delayed basis of several hours or even a few days. Chances are pretty good that the high court will turn down this latest request from C-SPAN, once again leaving its proceedings shielded from the limelight.