Specter Bows High Court TV Bill


With the John Roberts nomination nearing a Senate vote, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) Monday introduced a bill designed to require the Supreme Court to open its doors to TV cameras.

Passage of such a bill would represent hundreds of hours of new programming for C-SPAN, Court TV and other cable networks dedicated to covering the law and courts.

“It is very much in the public interest, in my view, to have the Supreme Court televised,” Specter said, announcing the bill while speaking about the Roberts nomination on the Senate floor.

Specter said televised coverage of Roberts’ hearings to be Chief Justice of the United States revived interest in the cameras-in-the-courts issue.

Traditionally, the Supreme Court has barred cameras and tape recorders. Audio recordings are made available, but well after oral arguments. In special circumstances, the high court has released audio recordings moments after oral arguments, an example being the case regarding the 2000 presidential election.

“I have long felt that the court ought to be televised,” Specter said.

Justices Antonin Scalia and David Souter have strongly opposed allowing cameras -- a position shared by late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whom Roberts would replace if confirmed by the Senate later this week.

At his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Roberts was noncommittal about cameras, which some court watchers considered progress given the open hostility of some incumbent justices.

Specter said his bill would allow the court to cut off TV coverage.

“The court would, under the proposed legislation, have the authority in a particular case to stop the television if it felt it necessary,” he said, without providing an example of when turning off the cameras might be appropriate.

Congress, Specter added, has the authority through legislation to determine the size the court and the number of justices necessary to constitute a quorum. He indicated that ordering camera coverage was an appropriate step for Congress to take.

However, Specter said, the Supreme Court would retain authority to deem a camera mandate as an unconstitutional intrusion on a coequal branch of government.

“If the Supreme Court should decide that legislation enacted by the Congress to call for [it] being televised was violative of the constitution, they would have the final word,” he added.