Scalia: TV Would 'Miseducate' People About Supreme Court

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who concedes he joined the court as a supporter of televising oral argument, continues to oppose it, he told C-SPAN in an interview that will air Sunday at 8 p.m.

Scalia believes that TV would turn court proceedings into unhelpful, uncharacteristic sound bites, and adds there is no First Amendment compulsion to open it to cameras.

C-SPAN has long pushed for cameras in the High Court.

In an interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb on Q&A, Scalia said that he does not believe that the purpose of televising the hearings would be to educate the public, the reason he first supported it.

"If I really thought it would educate the American people I would be all for it," he told Lamb. If the public sat down and watched oral argument "gavel to gavel," he said, no one would ever again ask him why you have to be a lawyer to be on the Supreme Court. He suggested such extending viewing would demonstrate that the court didn't spend most of its time contemplating its navel about whether there should be a right to abortion or other issues.

Instead, he said, the court is usually dealing with the Internal Revenue Code, patent law and "all sorts of dull stuff that only a lawyer could understand or get interested in."

That, he said, would educate the public. But what TV would do, according to Scalia, is turn it into a 15-second or 30-second sound bite. "Your outfit would carry it all," he said to Lamb, whose network carries gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate, but what most would see are take-outs that are not characteristic of what the court does.

Lamb pointed out that people now see newspaper stories that are themselves takeouts from the proceedings. Scalia maintained that was fine, and was different from the impact of video, saying the same for audio, which Lamb points out is released by the court and excerpted. Scalia said he continues to be a strong free speech advocate, but added: "The First Amendment has nothing to do with whether we have to televise our proceedings."

Congress has periodically introduced legislation to require TV coverage of the court on a case-by-case basis, with no success to date.