Justice Kennedy to Congress: Don’t allow cameras in high court

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy yesterday asked Congress not to consider allowing cameras in the high court.

Kennedy, who has previously expressed his opposition, said cameras would damage the way justices relate to each other and lawyers during oral arguments.

“Please don’t introduce into the dynamics I have with my colleagues the insidious temptation that one of my colleagues is trying to get a sound bite for the cameras. We don’t want that,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s comments came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which he also stressed a need to increase salaries for federal judges.

Sen. Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the committee, has introduced legislation (S. 344) that would require the justices to televise their proceedings.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that in his experience as a Texas Supreme Court justice, the camera “was very unobtrusive.”

Meanwhile, reflecting on closely watched controversial cases, several federal judges said late last week that the public would have benefited from televised trials.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones barred television cameras from covering the lawsuit over the teaching of intelligent design in biology class in Dover, Pa.

“I might have gotten it wrong,” Jones said. “The lawyering was so good. We might have benefited from the public seeing the witnesses and the process.”

Similarly, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said he wished cameras could have recorded the trial in his courtroom over the presence of a Ten Commandments monument that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore installed in the state’s judicial building.

“The public could have heard it and decided for themselves whether they agreed with my decision,” said Thompson, who ordered the monument removed because it violated the separation of church and state. “Having the camera in the courtroom allows the public to get both sides of the argument.”

The judges’ comments came during a panel discussion at the American Bar Association’s midyear meeting. The Feb. 10 session focused on practical and personal issues the judges faced in handling the controversies.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, who turned down requests to block the removal of a feeding tube from the brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo, said he presided at televised trials while a state judge and never encountered problems.

The three judges presided over bench trials, without juries and the complications that could arise from the presence of cameras.

Judge Rosemary Barkett of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said appellate arguments should always be televised because juries never are involved at that level.

“Legitimately, I can’t for the life of me see why you wouldn’t televise an appellate argument,” Barkett said.

Recalling her time on the Florida Supreme Court, she said: “Many of us lost our tempers and were just as obnoxious after the cameras as before the cameras. You forget about them.”

Several Supreme Court justices have raised objections to cameras at their oral arguments, although the two newest court members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, have said they could be open to the idea.

Since the Bush v. Gore case in the disputed 2000 presidential election, the high court has released same-day audio in some major cases.

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