But opening the Supreme Court to television is going to take a lot of citizen pressure. It's hard getting Congress to open up.
From C-Span's website
On November 9, 2010, C-SPAN sent a letter to U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the presumptive next speaker, requesting that the House allow floor proceedings to also be covered by C-SPAN cameras.[emphasis added in all the quotes above]
House floor debates are currently televised by cameras owned, operated, and controlled by the House. Reaction shots and wide shots of the chamber are not permitted under House rules. C-SPAN, as well as other media outlets, must use the floor feed provided by the House in its coverage. Congressional policy does allow for C-SPAN's coverage of other Congressional events, such as committee hearings, press conferences, speeches, and the like, to be produced by its own cameras. C-SPAN argues that allowing its cameras to be installed in the House chamber would give the public a more complete and transparent view of Congressional debates. If granted permission to install cameras, C-SPAN proposes to make its feed available to accredited media and stream it live on its web site.
C-Span's been writing letters like this for a long time. Here's a linked list of the letters they've sent to Congress, the Supreme Court, and others requesting access to televise proceedings. And a couple of politely negative responses.
- C-SPAN's Requests for Increased Camera Coverage
- Throughout its nearly 32-year history, C-SPAN has pushed for greater public access to the federal government, requesting more television access to the House and Senate and to the Supreme Court. Samples of earlier correspondence are listed below.
Back in the mid-80s I was convinced that the Anchorage Assembly needed to be on cable and worked hard to make it happen. The basic concerns were things like:
- Assembly members will play to the cameras
- Poor people wouldn't have access
- People, in general, wouldn't watch, so
- It wasn't worth the cost
In only a couple of weeks the doubters were convinced. They told me things like:
- people come up to me in the market and say they saw me on cable
- people testify, saying, "I saw this on television and had to come down. . ."
There is NO LEGITIMATE excuse not to have the Supreme Court arguments live on television and online. "Dignity of the Institution" and such excuses are, well, just excuses. The less Americans see, the more they speculate. The more they see, the more they understand. It's pretty simple. The majority of American people can be trusted to watch democracy happen live. The quality of our democracy improves as people see what is really going on. People are much more likely to listen or watch than read. (Note: this is opinion, not necessarily fact.)
Yes some will try to abuse the broadcasts and play snippets out of context on YouTube. So what? Others will correct them, because they'll have access to the whole proceedings. The only possible losers are judges who aren't competent or are not fulfilling their duties.
While writing this I came across the name Carl Malamud. He's someone we all should know. He's used his imagination and understanding of how people work to get government information online. James Fallow wrote:
. . . An internet innovator named Carl Malamud is correcting this with a kind of web-based supplement to C-Span. Ten years ago Malamud tricked the Securities and Exchange Commission into making corporate financial data available free, on line. The corporate filings were already public in theory but in practice were hard to find. Malamud set up his own free web site with searchable access to the filings . After two years of operation, when the site had become widely popular, he said he would close it in 60 days and told people how to complain to the SEC if they wanted to keep getting the data. The resulting public demand forced the SEC to set up its own site.
Malamud is now doing the same thing with hearings. The committees have their own webcasting services to record their meetings, but the recordings are not centrally catalogued or, in most cases, easy to download. Also, C-Span asserts copyright over its own recordings, so they cannot be distributed over the web. Malamud is amassing the committees' recordings, converting them to a standard format, and making them available, free. If you go to www.archive.org and enter the search term "hooptedoodle" (a literary allusion to John Steinbeck), you'll see his collection. He hopes people will eventually ask why Congress is not doing this job itself. . .