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Supreme Court justices said Thursday that troubling memories of O.J. Simpson’s televised murder trial a decade ago hang over the present-day debate about cameras in courts — including the highest court. Three justices — Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer — briefly debated the subject during an American Bar Association event on the importance of law in the United States and abroad. Although Supreme Court justices have long opposed courtroom cameras, there’s a fresh move in Congress to open up proceedings. The House voted Wednesday to give federal judges the power to televise court hearings. And Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has introduced legislation that would require the Supreme Court to allow its sessions to be televised in most cases. “There are a number of people who would want to make us part of the national entertainment network,” Kennedy said. While states allow some camera coverage of court proceedings, cameras are forbidden in federal district courts. Federal appeals courts have varying policies. Resistance has been the stiffest at the Supreme Court. In 1996, Justice David Souter told a congressional panel, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.” “I don’t think in this country there is a total consensus as yet on having cameras in all courts,” O’Connor said, pointing to the trial “involving a prominent sports figure.” Of the Simpson trial, she said: “I thought it was pretty sad. I was very uncomfortable with it.” Kennedy interjected that “some might say that if the system is flawed then people ought to know it.” “Well, we saw it there,” O’Connor said. It was an unusual and frank discussion of a subject that also may be debated behind closed doors at the Supreme Court as its membership changes. Media groups have called on new Chief Justice John Roberts to change the policy. Reporters are barred from bringing any recording device — including tape recorders and cameras — into the courtroom where the nine justices hear arguments in about 80 cases a year. Kennedy said it’s easier to make arguments for cameras than against them, and cameras could help lawyers who might argue some day before the justices. At the same time, he said justices’ decision-making is on paper. “We will be judged by what’s in those opinions that are in books on the wall. Our timeline, our language, our grammar, our ethic, our chronology, our dynamic are different from the political branches,” Kennedy said. Breyer said the most serious concerns involve cameras in criminal trials. “I do think about the O.J. Simpson case,” Breyer said. “I think I’m not certain I would vote in favor of having them in every criminal trial in the country.” He said there should be research into how the public feels about cameras in the court, and what the drawbacks might be. While some justices see the benefits, Breyer said, “none of us, I think, wants to do anything to harm that institution, irrespective of what kind of slogan you can give for one side or the other.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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