Two SCOTUS Justices Now Oppose Cameras

Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said Monday that allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court. The statements seem to dash even faint hopes that April's historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised.

Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, dashing even faint hopes that April’s historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised.

In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court.

Sotomayor told an audience in West Palm Beach, Florida, that cameras could change the behavior of both the justices and lawyers appearing at the court, who might succumb to “this temptation to use it as a stage rather than a courtroom.”

“I am moving more closely to saying I think it might be a bad idea,” she said.

During her confirmation hearings in 2009, Sotomayor told lawmakers she had a positive experience with cameras and would try to soften other justices’ opposition to cameras.

Speaking at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, Kagan told an audience that she is “conflicted” over the issue and noted strong arguments on both sides.


Kagan said that when she used to argue cases before the court as Solicitor General, she wanted the public to see how well prepared the justices were for each case “and really look as though they are trying to get it right.”

But Kagan said she is wary now of anything “that may upset the dynamic of the institution.”

She pointed to Congress, which televises floor proceedings, saying lawmakers talk more in made-for-TV sound bites than to each other.

“If you look at different experiences, when cameras come into a place, the nature of a conversation often changes,” Kagan said. “Honestly, I don’t think Congress is a great advertisement for this.”

The comments come less than two weeks after demonstrators briefly disrupted proceedings in the courtroom and managed to sneak a camera past security to record part of the protest. It was the second time in a year that the group 99Rise was able to smuggle a camera in and post footage on its website.

Last month, a coalition of media and public interest groups called on the court to open the gay marriage arguments for broadcast.

“While the cases affect millions of people’s everyday lives, only those present in the courtroom that day will get to see and hear the oral arguments as they happen,” the Coalition for Court Transparency said in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts.

Sedensky reported from West Palm Beach, Fla.; Hananel reported from Washington, D.C.

Comments (5)

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Gregg Palermo says:

February 3, 2015 at 8:44 am

Another reason to question the appointment of these two ideologues.

    Keith ONeal says:

    February 3, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Unfortunately, Rustbelt, once an appointment is confirmed in the Senate, it cannot be revoked.

Gene Johnson says:

February 3, 2015 at 11:43 am

You do realize that the court’s conservative justices have generally been the strongest opponents of opening the arguments to video, right? Also, neither said they were firmly opposed, only leaning in that direction (at least according to the article). They do have a point about televised congressional proceedings, particularly given the restriction that the cameras can’t show an often empty chamber when a member is speaking. While I personally tend to be in favor of opening the arguments, they are available in audio-only format, and I have listened to complete arguments on C-Span radio. Based on the way many arguments play-out, with the constant questioning and interruptions, I’m not entirely sure how much benefit releasing videos (or live broadcasts) of the arguments would provide. I certainly am in favor of a near immediate release of the complete audio (the court has for some arguments released the full audio shortly after an argument). The way isolated clips of video are used (misused) today in all sorts of ways, I’m not sure that the benefit of live broadcasts or full video would outweigh the costs given our highly partisan politics.

Ellen Samrock says:

February 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

I think it’s a lot like watching sausage being made. You’re better off not actually viewing the process. As it is, some of the opinions these justices have written on past rulings have left me shaking my head in disbelief. Do I really want to watch these people in action? I don’t think so.

Andrea Rader says:

February 3, 2015 at 11:29 pm

The worry is that the justices will play to the cameras as the legislative branch does on C-SPAN. Sadly, that worry may be justified.