The American Civil Liberties Union is trying to get the Senate to tee up a bill in the lame duck session that would authorize televising Supreme Court oral arguments.
The bill (S. 446), is backed by court camera fan and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), a former Republican and former prosecutor. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has yet to get a vote in the full senate.
In a letter to senators Thursday, ACLU, joined by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Alliance for Justice, pushed for action before the end of the year.
"The Court decides too many questions of monumental importance to the American people to deny them the opportunity to observe its proceedings," they wrote. "The time has come for the Supreme Court to enter the 21st century and join the high courts of the United Kingdom and Canada by permitting broadcast television coverage of its open proceedings."
The idea is to get Senate staffers thinking about the bill before the election week takes over their agenda, said Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Legislative chief of staff and First Amendment counsel.
He said given the bipartisan support, it is one of the few that might be able to move in lame duck on unanimous consent (UC), But he also concedes that there remain some legislators with issues who could block UC passage, issues they tried to address in the letter. "We understand the objections some have raised against televising trials, especially criminal trials where the rights of defendants must necessarily be considered." the groups said. "We are, nonetheless, convinced that those objections generally do not translate to the appellate arena where there are no juries to be exposed nor witnesses to be intimidated."
The Supreme Court recently approved release of audio-tapes of oral arguments at the end of each argument week, but also said that meant it was no longer going to consider journalist's requests for expedited release of tapes.
The court next week--on election day, Nov. 2--is scheduled to hear oral argument in a speech case--Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment merchants involving a California ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.