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TV Ratings for High Court Arguments Would Be Awful, Alito SaysJustice Samuel Alito says he doubts the public is clamoring for Supreme Court sessions to be televised. "I am concerned that if our arguments were televised we'd be competing neck and neck with Congress ... for the lowest ratings that have ever been recorded by the Nielsen system," Alito said Friday in an often humorous speech at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics conference on the need for major changes to the Constitution.
2007-10-22 12:00:00 AM
Justice Samuel Alito doubts the public is clamoring for Supreme Court sessions to be televised and predicts they would battle Congress for last place in the ratings.
Alito said Friday that the same-day availability of oral argument transcripts on the Internet and extensive media coverage means the "only thing missing is pictures of the justices and the lawyers with their lips moving as they ask and answer questions."
"I am concerned that if our arguments were televised we'd be competing neck and neck with Congress ... for the lowest ratings that have ever been recorded by the Nielsen system," Alito said in an often humorous speech at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics conference on the need for major changes to the Constitution.
Alito refrained from addressing specific proposed reforms, including those dealing with electing Congress and the president or ending lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices.
"There are very strong reasons to be wary about wholesale or dramatic constitutional change," he said.
He felt freer, he said, to discuss the prospect of cameras in the courtroom since that would involve agreement among the nine justices, not a constitutional amendment.
Sessions of the House and Senate are televised on the C-SPAN cable channels. C-SPAN has offered to cover Court sessions in their entirety, but some justices are implacably opposed to allowing cameras in the courtroom.
It was only seven years ago that the Court agreed to make available same-day audio recordings of its biggest cases.
Alito went through a typical day's listing of television programming that already features courtroom drama, including Judge Judy, Judge Maria Lopez and Judge Alex.
"If our arguments were on television, we'd face some very stiff competition because there is already a surfeit of programming for court aficionados," Alito said.
Reporters were allowed to write about Alito's talk Friday, but the justice forbade television and radio reporters from recording his remarks for broadcast.
Alito decides on a "case-by-case basis" whether to allow cameras at his public events, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. She offered no explanation as to why he chose to exclude cameras Friday.
A public television crew from Richmond, Va., recorded the entirety of the conference for airing at a later date, according to a sign posted at the conference.
Alito's on-again, off-again restrictions on press coverage are similar to those of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose speeches often are open to media coverage, but not cameras.
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