Move over, Judge Judy. The Supreme Court, well-versed in hearing pleas, entertained a different type of request yesterday as it was petitioned to allow its first-ever live television broadcast.
In separate letters to Chief Justice John Roberts, both cable TV network C-SPAN and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, petitioned the court to broadcast the proceedings when it hears oral arguments in the vitriolic debate over President Obama’s health care reform bill. The court is expected to hear arguments about the bill in March 2012.
While the Supreme Court historically has been very much opposed to allowing cameras in the courtroom, last year it agreed to make audio recordings of all oral arguments available at the end of each week.
In its letter, C-SPAN cited the court’s decision to schedule 5 ½ hours of argument as an indication of the great significance of the case, and suggested replacing the “end of week audiocast” policy with live TV coverage.
“We believe the public interest is best served by live television coverage of this particular oral argument,” wrote C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb. “It is a case which will affect every American’s life, our economy, and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. Additionally, a five-and-a-half-hour argument begs for camera coverage — interested citizens would be understandably challenged to adequately follow audio-only coverage of an event of this length with all the justices and various counsel participating.”
Sen. Grassley, who authored legislation in 1999 to allow cameras in federal courtrooms, called on the court to televise the proceedings for much the same reasons as Lamb.
“The constitutional questions presented in the case are momentous,” Sen. Grassley wrote. “The public has a right to witness the legal arguments likely to be presented in the case: (1) the constitutionality of the individual mandate; (2) the severability of the individual mandate and whether or not the remainder of the law is valid without the mandate; and (3) the authority of Congress to impose mandatory Medicaid coverage thresholds on states.”
Additionally, Sen. Grassley said that modern technology makes televising the proceedings simple and unobtrusive.
“Given the nature of the topic, everyone in the country would benefit from following the proceedings in this landmark case,” he added.
Reuters reports that a court spokeswoman had no comment on the requests.