Court Still Mute On Televising Healthcare Argument

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C-SPAN has still not heard back from the Supreme Court on its request to televise the marathon oral argument March 26 in the challenge to healthcare law.

The public affairs network told Multichannel News the nation's top court has yet to respond to its Nov. 15 request that the court permit it to televise the proceedings live and make the feed available to anyone who wanted it.

The court currently releases audio transcripts of oral argument at the end of each week, an improvement of the Roberts court over the previous end-of-term release. It also makes transcripts available online. But, as it has with other high-profile arguments, C-SPAN says live TV coverage would be in the public-interest. The court has yet to allow cameras despite repeated requests and a push in Congress for legislation that would require the Justices to vote on coverage on a case-by-case basis.

Backers of that bill were hoping to get it passed before the oral argument, but that has not happened. It did pass the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but a similar bill has passed that committee at least three times before.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored that bill, pointed out that the Supreme Court's "so-called" public hearings are only open to about 250 of the nation's 300 million people in real time, minus those seats reserved for those in the Supreme Court bar. He also said that since the Senate nominations for those Supreme Court Justices are open to cameras, the same should be the case when they cross the street to the court.

On the other side is Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has pointed out that at least five of the current Justices do not support televising proceedings, that there were separation of powers issues about telling the Supreme Court what to do, and that attorneys and even judges would be tempted to perform for the cameras, as the Simpson trial demonstrated.

According to C-SPAN spokesman Peter Kiley, if the court does not permit that televised coverage, it will air audio recordings with accompanying photos, as it did with Bush v. Gore and other arguments.

The court's audio transcripts are usually released Friday afternoon, says Kiley, and the plan would be to air those on C-SPAN radio Friday afternoon, and then air the audio of argument on the individual mandate on C-SPAN Friday at 7 p.m., then the rest spread over four days April 2-5, in primetime on C-SPAN.