Unless you’re one of the privileged or fortunate 400, you’re never going to see it.
That’s how many seats are available inside the Supreme Court for this week’s much-anticipated arguments over the constitutionality of ObamaCare. And that’s how many folks will get to see the actual faces of the justices and attorneys, their body language and manner. They’ll be witnesses to history.
“Every American should have the opportunity to see and hear this landmark case as it plays out, not just the select few allowed in the courtroom. The health-care reform law has ramifications for the entire country,” Grassley said in a news release earlier this month. “Video coverage would help with the public’s understanding of not only the controversial new law, but also the American judicial system.”
Grassley, who has admirably agitated for courtroom cameras for years, was among lawmakers who urged Chief Justice John Roberts to allow video coverage of the health-reform arguments. C-SPAN offered to shoot the six hours of arguments over three days for delayed daily broadcast, a good compromise.
But Roberts declined, allowing only audio and a written transcript. Opponents of cameras have argued that they would shake tradition and negatively alter the proceedings.
Nonsense. I don’t buy the contention that openness injures decorum or erases reverence.
The Iowa Supreme Court allowed its arguments in the Varnum v. Brien same-sex marriage case to be broadcast live and streamed online. Anyone who bothered to watch saw a fascinating, informative back-and-forth between the justices and attorneys, arguments constructed and carefully dissected. Having seen many arguments over the years that weren’t broadcast, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference.
If more people had watched, I doubt the ridiculous court caricatures created by the ruling’s social conservative critics would have taken hold so easily. Our courts are better off in the long run being clearly seen and understood, instead of cloaked in mystery.
The U.S. Supreme Court is not a private club. It is a branch of our government. And at important moments like this, we ought to be able to watch it operate. Hanging in the balance is legislation that affects millions of people, and the potential for a ruling that could have huge implications for the way we the people are governed. This could very well be one of the most important cases in the nation’s history.
And, yet, we can’t see it with our own eyes. Something’s wrong with this picture.