WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), along with seven colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a Sense of the Senate Resolution urging the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of open Court proceedings. The resolution seeks to open the Supreme Court’s doors so that more Americans can see the process by which the Court reaches critical decisions of law that affect this country and everyday Americans.
The resolution is cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
“Television coverage of the Supreme Court is long overdue,” stated Specter. “The Supreme Court makes pronouncements on Constitutional and federal law that have direct impacts on the rights of Americans. Those rights would be substantially enhanced by televising the oral arguments of the Court so that the public can see and hear the issues presented.”
“I have made it a priority throughout my public service to push for greater transparency in government, as I believe the key to a healthy democracy is an open government and informed citizenry,” said Cornyn. “For too long, however, shadows have precluded the American people from having a better understanding of what goes on in our Supreme Court. I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan effort that would bring long overdue sunshine to Supreme Court proceedings by permitting televised coverage in the courtroom. I hope our colleagues will join us in supporting this important measure.”
“The Supreme Court’s decisions affect the lives of all Americans; they should be able to see the Court in action,” Feingold said. “Allowing the Court’s oral arguments to be televised will make government more accessible and help the American people understand the important issues the Court considers. This is a change that is long overdue.”
“I applaud Sen. Specter for his efforts – this move is essential,” Kaufman said. “The American people should see up close how government functions, and opening up the Supreme Court would be a great step forward.”
The resolution takes a more restrained and modest approach than previous legislation Senator Specter has introduced which would compel the Supreme Court to allow television coverage of its proceedings. The bills, introduced in 109th and 110th Congresses, were reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee but not taken up by the full Senate. Senator Specter introduced identical legislation, S. 446, again in the 111th Congress.
A confluence of events has provided encouraging signals that the Supreme Court could move on this issue in the near future. Justice Souter, the Court’s most outspoken critic of television coverage, has retired. His replacement, Judge Sonia Sotomayor testified during her confirmation hearing that she had favorable experiences with cameras in the courtroom as a judge on the court of appeals. Senator Specter also solicited the opinions of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito during their confirmation hearings. Chief Justice Roberts said that he would keep an open mind on the issue. Justice Alito stated that, as a circuit judge, he voted to permit televised proceedings in the Third Circuit.
In October, the newly established Supreme Court of the United Kingdom decided to allow cameras in its courtroom in the interest of “transparency” and the “crucial role” that television can play in “letting the public see how justice is done.” The decision was met with much praise, and thus far, the UK’s experiences have been positive.
A poll released in September by C-Span shows that nearly nine in ten American voters (88%) say the Court has an impact on their everyday lives and nearly two in three (65%) responded favorably to televising oral arguments.