U.S. Supreme Court. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.
A coalition of media and public interest groups on Sunday urged Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to allow the video recording and broadcast of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.
“We believe the Supreme Court should embrace contemporary expectations of transparency by public officials,” the Coalition for Court Transparency wrote in a letter to Roberts. “Though the Supreme Court is in a unique position as the nation’s highest court, that status provides more reason to open its educational opportunities to a wider public, instead of making access more difficult.”
The letter went to the court on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 ruling New York Times v. Sullivan, which the group said “helped media outlets cover controversial topics of national import without fear of frivolous lawsuits.” The high court, it said, should now “enact policies that will help the public better understand its important work.”
The coalition reminded the court that other precedents, including the 1980 Richmond Newspapers case, presume that court proceedings “should be open to the public.” Those precedents focus on the right of the public to attend court proceedings, but “the rationales hold true for live broadcasts of oral arguments,” the letter asserts.
“Video would provide an important civic benefit, as it would be an incredible platform for legal education and future students of history, rhetoric and political science,” the letter states. If the court is still reluctant to allow video, the coalition said the court should release the audio of arguments on a same-day basis as a next step.
The letter is the latest effort by the newly formed coalition to increase public pressure on the court, which has long been reluctant to allow live or even delayed video broadcast of its proceedings. A coalition-sponsored advertisement has been running on cable news outlets in recent weeks also urging cameras in the high court.
In an aside, the letter stated that “neither the coalition … nor its member groups were responsible for the video of Supreme Court proceedings that appeared online last month. We do not endorse or encourage such behavior at the high court or in any courtroom.” A protester interrupted an oral argument on Feb. 26, and someone nearby with a hidden camera recorded the event, later posting it on YouTube.
Among the groups in the coalition are the National Association of Broadcasters, the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association, the Americans Society of News Editors, the Alliance for Justice, Constitutional Accountability Center, the Liberty Coalition and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Contact Tony Mauro at tmauro@alm.com Editor’s Note: Mauro is a member of the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which is a member of the Coalition for Court Transparency.