The Monster in the Courtroom

By West, Sonja R. | Brigham Young University Law Review, November 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Monster in the Courtroom


West, Sonja R., Brigham Young University Law Review


"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.

It is well known that Supreme Court Justices are not fans of cameras - specifically, video cameras.2 Despite continued pressure from the press,3 Congress,4 and the public5 to allow cameras into oral arguments, the Justices have steadfastly refused. They have, moreover, shown no inkling of reconsidering their position any time soon. They have yet to deem any case to be of sufficient importance or public interest to allow even a single camera in the courtroom while they are in session.6

Many observers have argued in favor of televising oral arguments as a matter of public policy, and these important arguments merit the Justices' attention. The public policy debate centers on the virtues of openness in the work of courts in general and the work of the Supreme Court in particular.7 Arguments for cameras as a means to increased transparency of judicial work, however, tend to gloss over a significant point about the Court - it is not secretive. The Court allows several avenues of public access to its process, making it a relatively open and transparent government body. This is particularly true with oral arguments.8 Chief Justice John Roberts was correct when he told the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference recently that "[everything we do that has an impact is done in public."9 The openness of the Court's arguments starts with the presence of the press and hundreds of members of the public in the audience. For those who cannot be physically present, transcripts of the arguments are released daily,10 and audio recordings are released weekly.11 There is now even live blogging of opinion announcements through the website "SCOTUSblog."12 These various means of access make clear that this is not simply an issue of transparency versus secrecy. Oral arguments at the Supreme Court are, in all fairness, open and public events.

This makes it all the more curious why the Justices have drawn the line at cameras. Yet draw the line they have. They have drawn it firmly (not even for purely archival purposes),13 and they have drawn it forcefully (Justice David Souter famously told the House Appropriations Committee that "the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body"14). The opposition to video cameras also crosses ideological lines.15

Time has shown, moreover, that this is not simply a matter of waiting out older, technologically fearful Justices and replacing them with their younger, tech-sawy counterparts. Some of the older16 as well as some of the younger17 Justices have vigorously opposed allowing cameras in the courtroom. Notably, Supreme Court nominees almost always speak in favor of cameras in the courtroom during their confirmation hearings, yet once on the Court they become opposed.18 The newest member of the Court, Justice Elena Kagan, appears to be following this trend. At her confirmation hearings, she said that she thought "it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom,"19 but just over two years later she was not so sure, confessing she had "a few worries" about the potential presence of cameras.20

Nor has internal opposition to filming Court sessions softened as video equipment has become less intrusive. Today, the use of video technology causes no more light or noise and takes up no more space than other tools.21 Almost fifty years ago Justice Harlan predicted "the day may come when television will have become so commonplace an affair in the daily life of the average person as to dissipate all reasonable likelihood that its use in courtrooms may disparage the judicial process."22 Surely the day Justice Harlan predicted has arrived; tiny and quiet cameras are commonplace.23 No one has argued for years that the cameras would be too loud or too big and thus a disruption.24

All of this raises the central question - why the fear of video cameras? After allowing so much access, why not add this additional avenue of communication with the public?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Monster in the Courtroom
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.