Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases

Bootleg Video Renews Debate about Cameras in Supreme Court


On ongoing debate among Supreme Court observers concerns whether or not the Supreme Court should allow cameras into the Court. “Debate” might not be the right word since no one seems to be making a strong case for the opposing argument. The consensus among observers is that the Court should allow cameras, and the Court seems not to care. It just quietly continues to forbid cameras in the courtroom.

Last month a youtube video emerged (shown below) which appears the be the first video of the Court in session. This has rekindled the old argument. Professor Erwin Chemerinsky is the latest to take up the mantle. His argument essentially is that open government proceedings are a necessary part of a functioning democracy.

I cannot disagree with Chemerinsky, but this will likely decrease the public’s estimation of the Court. For the most part, the way the Court operates is a mystery. Most decisions are ignored, but occasionally there is an important case that catches the public’s interest. At those times people seem to care more about the outcome of the case and not necessarily about the reasons the Court made its decision. Idealistic notions about the Court will end once everyone sees the behavior of individual justices. It is only a matter of time until a justice is lampooned on late night television for an impolitic jab made during oral arguments.

That is not to say that I am necessarily against cameras in the courtroom. Perhaps the public could use a little healthy distrust of the Supreme Court.

Author: Natty Shafer

Attorney practicing immigration and criminal law

3 thoughts on “Bootleg Video Renews Debate about Cameras in Supreme Court

  1. Wouldn’t the only people watching those videos be lawyers or legal/political wonks? I think the general public would still find the operation of the Supreme Court a mystery.

    • I think it will be like C-SPAN and Congress. 99% of the time it will be only “political wonks,” as you say, watching, but it is the exceptions that will make all the difference. When a sound bite makes the nightly news, it is unlikely to be the most flattering portrayal of the Court. It is likely going to be something controversial. The vast majority of Supreme Court cases are uninteresting to everyone, even lawyers, but we will only see the justices during those rare, politically explosive cases.

      It also opens the justices to ridicule from late night talk show hosts. It is one thing to rely on written reports. It is an entirely different scenario to be able to show the clip of a justice speaking. Can you imagine someone like Jon Stewart having years of taped footage of the Supreme Court? Justices contradict themselves with surprising regularity. Anyone with the patience to sift through hours of footage will find comedic contradictions.

      • Didn’t even think about the late night crowd. Now I want to see cameras allowed, so I can get ALL my news from Jon Stewart.

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