Lost words from an antiquated court

Like Justice Sonia Sotomayor did yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia read his dissent (Page 35) to today’s DOMA ruling from the bench. It’s a symbolic, but otherwise pointless, exercise, given that in 2013, live cameras and microphones are still not allowed in the High Court.

So, we’re left with this sort of nonsense. Interns racing with important nation-changing decisions, to reporters camped outside, who leaf through pages looking for one word (“affirmed” or “overturned,” for example) in an otherwise complex and intellectual document, who then will report the decision without its most critical mass: “why?”.

Absent any true dissection of the ruling, the pointyheads at a local law school are then called on to explain the decision, and then people take to Twitter or social media or talk shows to castigate the justices who sided with the position with which they disagree. And all of this happens while the words of the justices to explain their days and months of thought are lost.

Surely there must be a better way.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley have introduced a bill that would require all open Supreme Court sessions to be televised, unless a majority of justices agree that cameras would violate the rights of those arguing a case, which — if history is any guide — judges have been only too happy to so rule when given the options. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a co-sponsor.

“There are state supreme courts, there are foreign supreme courts that have been doing this and their reports are all really positive–that people do tune in occasionally, they watch it and they have greater faith in the judges and justices, not less,” Scotusblog publisher and co-founder Tom Goldstein told MSNBC this week.

Not in my lifetime and probably not in yours, either. None of the justices favors the newfangled technology in the Supreme Court.

After all, it’s not as if there aren’t sketch artists still at work.

  • Starquest

    But if cameras were allowed, I would have to endure the crazed ramblings of lunatics like Scalia and Alito. No thanks.

    • DavidG

      I wonder if cameras might put a stop to Alito’s juvenile eye rolling antics…

  • Matt Black

    I’m honestly torn on the issue. I like listening to the MN Supreme Court when MPR broadcasts arguments. I also agree that more openness in any judicial process is a good thing.

    I worry about the grandstanding and TV theatrics though. I’m thinking about the OJ Simpson trial, mostly. While the time limits the court sets for arguments would help alleviate a lot of that, in the age of Twitter and speaking for the sound bite, I worry what it could do.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      At least in the oral arguments, you wouldn’t have the opportunity for TV theatrics because there’s no break for them to occur. Look, CSPAN doesn’t seem to have a problem with this when it comes to hearings at the Capitol (other than the tendency of politicians to be gasbags, but they were gasbags before TV was allowed in).

      I don’t see any reason why the court, in fact, couldn’t operate the video feed. Stream it online.

      It sure beats the pathetic characterization I saw of yesterday’s VRA which dumbed arguments down about as far as they could be dumbed down.

      • Matt Black

        Yeah, the dumbing down into 140 characters (or less since you need to get your hashtags in) is awful. We’ve seem to have lost (if we’ve ever had?) the ability to discuss and debate in nuance. These issues are very complex, and they should be, and Twitter isn’t the place for definitive explanations like people want it to be.

        I’m mostly inclined to agree that we need cameras in the courts. I hope the Judges and Justices would ensure that things don’t just turn into a show.

        • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

          One of the things I’d like to see in Supreme Court coverage is how the decision’s precedent might play out in the future on entirely unrelated matters, but in which the court cites this particular case (whatever this particular case is) as the basis.

          I rarely read the constitution specifically being cited in any of the decisions I read, only previous case rulings based on the constitution.

  • KTN

    If they allowed cameras in the court, then maybe the presenting attorneys could start with a knock knock joke.

  • Guest

    If they ever choose to televise SCOTUS arguments, make all lawyers presenting arguments before the court wear traditional British barrister attire.