The historic swearing in of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor is significant not only in the fact that she is the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, but also this is the first time that cameras have been allowed in the court for this ceremony. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swore Sotomayor in twice, the first in a private ceremony as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution and a second time before television cameras, friends and family, a first in Supreme Court history.
The various Justices have held differing opinions on whether camers in the courtroom are appropriate. While he was still Supreme Court justice, David Souter (who is replaced by Sonia Sotomayor) discouraged any attempts to broadcast Supreme Court proceedings. He used the “camel’s nose” theory fearing that once they had even the slightest amount of access, the media would soon gain full access to Court proceedings. Justice Souter once told a House Appropriations subcommittee, “that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” Justice Sotomayor is of a different opinion.
Chief Justice Roberts has signaled that he may not oppose televised court proceedings. Roberts said during his confirmation hearings that he had an open mind about the issue of cameras in the Supreme Court, a statement that gave advocates new hope after the late Chief Justice Warren Burger’s “over my dead body” opposition and his successor William Rehnquist’s less vehement but still unyielding distaste for the idea.
“Justice Souter going off the court means a vocal opponent is gone,” said C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb, adding that Chief Justice John Roberts may not have wanted to press the issue with Souter there. C-SPAN has long wanted to broadcast proceedings of the court and they may some day now get their wish. “The chief justice who has his hand on the gavel can control any kind of rambunctiousness in which lawyers might want to show off. The public would benefit by seeing this isn’t ‘Judge Judy,’” Lamb said. “The process of writing opinions will never be public. All we’re asking for is the public discussion for one hour. It’s in a public forum, and there’s only 80 of those a year.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, when questioned by Rep. John Culberson (who filmed the statement himself) during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.“On the one hand, of course it would help people see how in some of these difficult issues we struggle with them, as do you.” On the other hand, he continued, “would they know that this is 2 percent of the matter, what they’re seeing, and would they, in fact, understand that most of what we do does not involve the two people in front of us, the lawyers on either side? It involves the 300 million people who are not there physically in the courtroom.” At the Aspen Ideas Festival Justice Stephen Breyer responded to a question about televising oral arguments at the Supreme Court (see video below). He spelled out the two sides position on the issue without giving any support to either position.
I think we will see the Supreme Court televised one day. I look forward to that day…