The chair and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary
committee have called on Chief Justice John Roberts to allow television cameras
to record the reading of the court's ruling on the high-profile health care law
appeal, which the court is expected to hand down either this Thursday or
sometime next week.
In a letter Tuesday to Roberts,
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). chair of the committee, and ranking member
Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), both advocates of cameras in federal courts, told
the chief justice that given the importance of the case -- "the issues in
the case are as important and consequential as any in recent Court
history," they said -- the public had a compelling interest in the outcome
of the case.
"Broadcasting the Court's ruling would permit millions
of citizens the opportunity to view what so few can from the court's small and
limited public gallery," said the senators. "Modern technology makes
televising the proceedings simple and unobtrusive," they added. "A
minimal number of cameras in the courtroom, which could be placed to be barely
noticeable to all participants, would provide live coverage of what may be one
of the most historic rulings of our time. We believe permitting the nation to
watch the proceedings would bolster public confidence in our judicial system
and in the decisions of the Court."
Those are all arguments they have made before in pushing
legislation that would open courts to cameras.
The Supreme Court is split on the issue, and some legislators are concerned
about separation of powers issues if the Congress legislates it.
The court back in March denied, without elaboration, a request by C-SPAN to televise the oral argument in the case, though it did make audio transcripts available on an expedited--same day--basis. It usually releases audio transcripts at the end of the week, which was itself an improvement over the former policy of releasing them at the end of each session.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill in February that would have opened the court to cameras unless the judges concluded, on a case-by-case basis, that it would violate due process. The hope was to pass it out of Congress before the healthcare bill oral argument, but that was always a long shot. Cameras in the court bills have been introduced periodically for years without success.