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Court Technology Group Wants Supreme Court to Televise Cases

Urges the adoption of increased transparency.

While not officially urging the U.S. Supreme Court to televise the proceedings when it hears arguments in March 2012 over President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, the head of a court technology organization says the high court should allow cameras went it hears arguments.

Frederic Lederer, the director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology, a joint initiative of the College of William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts that is designed to improve the administration of justice through the use of technology, says the Supreme Court should adopt more transparency.

“As the apex of the court system, [the Supreme Court] would do well to permit the public, in ordinary, and especially in extraordinary cases, to understand the nature of a Supreme Court argument,” Lederer told Government Video. “Transparency and accountability would suggest that it would be appropriate to do that,” he said.

On Nov. 14, the Supreme Court said it will hear arguments in the cases National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, No. 11-400, and it has reserved more than five hours on its docket for those arguments (most cases receive an hour for arguments). The court has never allowed the arguments to be televised; rather it releases transcripts for every case and audio recordings of high-profile arguments.

However, since announcing it would hear arguments in those cases, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as well as C-SPAN and the Radio, Television Digital News Association have sent letters or issued statements requesting the high court allow cameras in the courtroom.

If the court agrees to allow cameras, they would have to be located in the courtroom in such a way that they would be unobtrusive and operate without any visible presence, Lederer said.

Placing cameras in the courtroom so they are unobtrusive would not be a problem for C-SPAN, says Howard Mortman, the cable network’s communications director. “C-SPAN would utilize the smallest, least obtrusive equipment possible,” he said, adding, “We told the court we would work with them on the logistics to minimize disruption of the argument.”

The court “has all the options that could possibly exist,” Lederer said. “The issue is not technology, the issue is what the court wishes to permit.” In addition, if the court is concerned that increased attention to a case that televising the arguments would create might change lawyers’ courtroom behavior, that is unlikely to occur, he said. “It’s unlikely that public visibility would change the nature of the arguments because there is hardly anything more important in a courtroom lawyer’s life than arguing at the Supreme Court, so it’s hard to imagine that being on television would necessarily change the nature of council’s argument,” he said.