John Paul Stevens (J. Albert Diaz)
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens expressed doubts Friday about whether there should ever be cameras in the nation’s highest court.
During an American Bar Association conference on communications law, Stevens was asked by National Law Journal Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro whether the justices will ever allow televised oral arguments.
Although Stevens had in the past been in favor, he said there is more merit in opposing them. He has concerns about unforeseen consequences and offered as an example how televised sports delay play for commercial breaks.
Likewise, when congressional hearings and floor debates became the subject of 24-hour cable news, Stevens said politicians became more prone to grandstanding. He suggested trial lawyers would be just as susceptible.
“I think there are adverse effects,” Stevens said. “I think there’s more merit to the notion, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ ”
However, Stevens said Americans lose something by not having cameras in the Supreme Court. The justices and the court suffer a level of anonymity that the other branches of government do not.
The public also is not exposed to how well-prepared the justices are when they question appellate attorneys who come before them, he added.
Stevens was the keynote speaker at the three-day conference of the 19th annual Forum on Communications Law in Aventura.
He was questioned on a variety of landmark libel and First Amendment cases. Of particular interest to the audience was the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to corporate and union spending in elections.
Stevens cast one of four dissenting votes in one of his last cases before retirement that summer. At the luncheon, he was asked if it would take a constitutional amendment to stop the flow of private money into elections that decision allowed.
“Well, either a constitutional amendment or one more vote,” Stevens said to applause.
He also was critical of U.S. v. Alvarez, a 2012 decision that struck down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. The case involved a California politician, Xavier Alvarez, who falsely claimed he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Stevens said that case was very hard for him to accept. He said the court went too far in protecting false speech and taught America’s youth a bad example.
“There is an importance in not giving too much protection to purely false speech. Being honest in your speech is terribly important,” he said.