Televising Supreme Court Proceedings

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The audience gasps as the witness bursts into sobs; late night television shows will broadcast this scene for days, condensing a complex trial into a mere gif. The Supreme Court is not a soap opera or Judge Judy, and bringing in cameras does more harm than good. Court proceedings could be distorted or edited for public viewing, and redacted information does not tell the whole story. In addition, the safety and behavior of the judges must be considered. Grandstanding or self-censoring for the cameras deprives the American people of the right to a fair and unbiased trial. Televising Supreme Court proceedings would alter public perception on cases and leave judges at the mercy of the media.

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Film is an influential tool in media that is used to present a certain bias. “Television in its present state and by its very nature reaches into a variety of areas in which it may cause prejudice to an accused … the televising of criminal trials is inherently a denial of due process” (Estes v Texas 381 U.S. 532, 1965). Invasive media coverage played a part in overruling charges of fraud in the case Estes vs. Texas. This is an example of a case which was impacted by filming courtroom events. Media coverage allows public perception to be altered using sound bites taken out of context and short clips used to portray hours of credible arguments. The Bar Association of California expressed concern that snippets of arguments would be taken out of context and could distort the public’s understanding of how the Court operates(Bar Assoc. Of San Francisco). This could lead to national outrage over controversial verdicts which would deter juries from interpreting the law in favor of protecting their own safety. Being in the public eye may not only create security threats, but also sway judges to perform for the cameras.

Should cameras be introduced, the acts of grandstanding or self-censoring by the judges would detract from the flow and communication within the court. Many judges including Justice Kennedy and Justice David Souter have expressed concerns that lawyers and even the justices would engage in ‘grandstanding’ for the camera or otherwise would tailor their behavior to the public eye(Bar Assoc. Of San Francisco). Judges would feel pressured to capture a defining moment within the allotted programming time to satisfy the ravenous media. Various retired Justices are worried that Judges will be manipulated by political agendas which are pushed by the media. In addition to overacting for cameras, self-censoring is an uncontrollable side effect of broadcasting court proceedings. This has been discussed by Justice Souter, who had firsthand experience with cameras in the New Hampshire Supreme Court and reported that he found himself self-censoring when cameras were present(Bar Assoc. Of S.F.). The judge was quoted as saying, I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body(Bar Assoc. Of S.F.). Self-censoring by judges detracts from the case and in the Supreme Court there should not be outside factors influencing the outcome of the trial. Although, supporters of televising Supreme Court proceedings argue that filming these cases are in the best interest of the public.

Education and transparency have been deemed evidence for televising Supreme Court proceedings. In a small study by the University of Connecticut, a reported 70 percent stated that televising Court arguments was a ‘good idea’ as it would increase Americans’ civic awareness (Roper Center at UConn). Even though, all transcripts and audio recordings become public record just hours after the argument. That includes analyses from opposing sides to aid the public in forming educated opinions. The court has placed educating Americans at the forefront of their concerns and strive to remain transparent.

Televising Supreme Court proceedings would not be beneficial for those involved or the public. It would lead to self- censoring by judges and overacting for dramatic effect. Additionally, snippets of conversation taken out of context would distort opinions and mislead the American people. Supreme Court Justices perform the highest interpretation of the law and have remained transparent and welcome civic curiosity; thus, they have earned the respect and trust of the people and deserve privacy from
the media.

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Televising Supreme Court Proceedings. (2019, Nov 07). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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