November 29, 2010

J-SPAN

I've been subscribing to the filings and postings in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case. Of late there have been a lot of requests by the media to broadcast the arguments (which will be a week from today). The Court has been granting all of them. Why are these motions even necessary? Courts are public places. They are operated for the benefit of the public and the Constitution guarantees that trials are to be public. There are exceptions for certain kinds of proceedings but for the most part, if you're a news reporter, you can walk in to a courtroom, plop down in the gallery, and observe and report on whatever goes on. You can comb through whatever anyone has filed in any case.

Modern technology is such that cameras and microphones are generally very unobtrusive. The fear of having cameras in the courtroom is that they will turn the proceedings into a circus, that lawyers will start playing to the cameras rather than to the jury, that public opinion will sway or alter the results of a trial and make it unfair. But juries can be sequestered and cameras can be turned off. Deciding which kinds of cases are appropriate for that sort of treatment is inherently the job of a judge. And I'm not proposing that there be news coverage, commentary, opinion, analysis, or reference to excluded evidence. I'm just talking about broadcasting what happens in the courtroom itself, without commentary, the way C-SPAN broadcasts proceedings of Congress.

So why aren't there cameras in every courtroom? Why isn't there a live feed going on from each and every court in the state, in the country even, and why aren't they turned on by default? Back in the day, that would have seemed like a daunting thing to do, but now, it's just more 0's and 1's going in to the Intertubes and there is a functionally infinite capacity for that sort of thing. You should be able to go to YouTube and tune in to streaming and recorded video of everything that happens in every courtroom, everywhere in the country, on any date. Yes, if there is a reason to turn the cameras off, the judge should have the ability to do that (and the reason should be announced to the public). But they should be on as a default and it should take a special finding of the Court that a case ought not to be broadcast in order to do that, in all cases ranging from traffic tickets to capital murder trials. And yes, they should be turned on in Constitutional cases too.

2 comments:

Matt Parker said...

Absolutely agree. And there should be cameras in every police interrogation room as well.

Jay said...

disagree, at least with respect to the United States Supreme Court. Having attended to a few Supreme Court hearings, I am confident that cameras would significantly change the dynamic of both oral arguments and the court itself. The Supreme Court is the only branch of the federal government that is not rampantly partisan (and I'm willing to argue this point with anyone who disagrees). Ideological divisions only emerge in the very few ideologically-charged cases that come before the court each year, and even those are conducted at the highest level of sophistication and with the utmost decorum. Cameras would make that impossible.