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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy pushed back strongly Tuesday against a bill pending in the Senate that would require the Court to televise its proceedings. “Mandating direct televised proceedings would be inconsistent with the deference and etiquette that should apply between the branches,” Kennedy said in response to questions from House members at the Court’s annual budget hearing Tuesday. “We feel very strongly that this matter should be left to the courts.” Kennedy also spoke out forcefully in favor of a pay raise for federal judges, warning that the failure by Congress to pass salary increases is “assuming the proportions of an historic wrong.” Every spring, justices go before a House Appropriations subcommittee seeking approval for the Court’s annual budget, which next year will total $76.4 million if passed. It is a rare and often illuminating encounter between branches, with House members asking pointed questions that put justices on the spot about a range of issues. There was some of that on Tuesday, but to an unusual degree the hearing became a platform for Kennedy and Justice Clarence Thomas to vent about actions or inactions by Congress on matters of deep interest to the high court. The camera issue was raised early on by subcommittee chairman Joseph Knollenberg, R-Mich., who said the recent confirmation hearings for two new justices had “brought about greater interest” in the Court on the part of the public. Kennedy at first deferred to Thomas, describing him as a “media star,” apparently a reference to Thomas’ greater visibility dating back to his stormy confirmation hearings in 1991. Thomas acknowledged, without pleasure, that he is probably the most recognized justice on the Court. On the issue of cameras in the Court, Thomas said it “runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider cases.” He also said cameras would reduce the justices’ cherished anonymity, leading to the need for more security. Cautiously, Thomas added that requiring the Court to allow cameras could prompt “some conflict between the branches.” That teed up the issue for Kennedy, who spoke much more forcefully against the proposal, often using the pronoun “we” to suggest that at least by his own measure of the situation, he was speaking for the full Court. Kennedy took aim at Senate legislation sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., which would require broadcast access unless a majority of justices in an individual case decided that a party’s due process rights would be violated. The bill was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The Supreme Court, Kennedy said, does not tell Congress how it should conduct its proceedings, so likewise, Congress should not be doing the same to the Court. “We feel very strongly that we have an intimate knowledge of the dynamics and needs of the Court,” said Kennedy. “By having no cameras, we teach that our Court has a different dynamic.” Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., sympathetically asked Kennedy, “Why would you countenance such a bill” if it is so inappropriate. Kennedy replied, “We wouldn’t.” But Kennedy did not specify what form the Court’s resistance to a bill passed by Congress would take. Kennedy seemed less vociferous about a separate bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, legislation that would permit, but not require, camera access in all federal courts at the discretion of the chief judge or justice. He indicated that bill, if passed, would pose far fewer separation of power issues, serving mainly as a signal from Congress that the judiciary should rethink its opposition to cameras. When Olver said, “You might get called tone deaf if you don’t move somehow toward some openness and transparency,” Kennedy was conciliatory. “The ‘tone deaf’ phrase is apt,” he said. But Kennedy’s passion was aroused again later in the hearing when he was asked about the salary issue, a sore point for the judiciary for decades. Current pay for the chief justice is $212,100, while associate justices are paid $203,000. The salary for appeals court judges is $175,100, with $165,200 for district judges. Congress has traditionally pegged the judicial salary structure to the pay for senators and House members, which is $165,200, the same as district judges. Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Ca., and Judy Biggert, R-Ill., co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch, introduced a bill last week to de-link judicial and legislative salaries. “In my view the present status of judges’ salaries threatens the quality of the judiciary,” said Kennedy, noting that when his law clerks leave his chambers, some are hired by law firms with hiring bonuses equal to his salary. “This devalues the position of the judiciary.” Kennedy said it is no longer the case, as it was decades ago, that the best lawyers in a given community aspire to the federal bench. “It doesn’t happen anymore,” Kennedy said, adding that the salary situation has led to a “serious erosion in the morale of the judges.”

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