Kennedy: No Cameras Show Uniqueness


Washington -- Banning cameras from the Supreme Court instructs the public that the country's highest tribunal has a unique role to perform in the U.S. political system, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Thursday.

“By not having the press in the courtroom, we also teach. We teach that our court is based on the reasons that we give in our opinions," Kennedy said Thursday at an American Bar Association forum here televised live on C-SPAN, a cable public-affairs network that has promised to air all future Supreme Court oral arguments if granted permission.

Kennedy -- speaking on a panel with Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer -- said the court's history and methods, especially the tradition of issuing written decisions, showed that the high court is "different from the political branches -- not better, not worse, different. By keeping the TV out, you teach that."

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would give judges the discretion to permit camera coverage of federal-court proceedings. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is sponsoring a bill that would force the Supreme Court to allow camera coverage unless the court held the law unconstitutional.

"There are a number of people who want to make us part of the national entertainment network," Kennedy said.

Before signaling his disapproval of cameras in the Supreme Court, Kennedy said something positive about camera coverage -- namely, that it can expose weaknesses in a political system.

"Sometimes if the system is flawed, the people ought to know it," he added.

Kennedy was reacting to O'Connor's remark that she felt that TV coverage of O.J. Simpson’s celebrated double-murder trial was detrimental.

"I don't think that in this country, there is a total consensus as yet on having cameras in all courts," O'Connor said. "Most of you saw that criminal trial in Los Angeles involving a prominent sports figure, and went it on for weeks, if not months, and it was shown around the world because the trial judge had the camera in the courtroom. I thought it was pretty sad. I was pretty uncomfortable with it."

Breyer said cameras in the Supreme Court would convey so much symbolic importance that all trial courts would follow its lead. Witnesses and jurors, he explained, might be uncomfortable in front of cameras.

"I do think about the O.J. Simpson case. I am not certain I would vote in favor of having it in every criminal trial in the country," Breyer added.