Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18, 2012

If you're as old as I am, you remember the US Supreme Court ruling that all Americans could vote, could use the same facilities like hotels and restaurants. You probably think that over the years the justices have done a pretty good job keeping the country constitutioinal. And they have, mostly, but I think they blew one the other day.

The Court will not allow television cameras to record six hours of argument to be heard over three days later this month about the nation's new health care law. That's in accordance with the Court's tradition. The Court did say it will provide audio recordings and transcripts quicker than it's done before. But freedom of speech, this isn't.

The Court has never allowed cameras in it's courtroom nor allowed live broadcasts of what it does. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that says the Court ought to televise its arguments, but it's in various kinds of trouble in Congress and may never become law.

The justices did not offer any new arguments for not allowing cameras. In the past they have said that cameras (even though they are silent) would alter the solumn nature of the Court's sessions and that television clips might be taken out of context. Of course politicians from city councils to Congress are always yelling that quotes they feel strongly about have been taken out of context. The country has survivied when the Court has been quoted by reporters in print and on air. It would probably survive if they were broadcast live, don't you think?

Defenders of the camera ban cite the unhappy experience of Judge Lance Ito who, many think, made a fool of himself performing for the cameras during the OJ Simpson trial, which under California law allowed cameras. One bad apple does not necessarily spoil a judicial barrel.

There are compelling arguments to be made both for and against cameras in the Court. But I keep hearing what Barry Goldwater said in 1964: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Isn't it time for the Court to give freedom a real chance.

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