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Members of Congress Urge Court to Televise ‘Obamacare’ Case

Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have sent letters or issued statements.

At least three prominent members of the U.S. Congress are urging the Supreme Court to televise the proceedings when it hears arguments in March 2012 over President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law.

Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have sent letters or issued statements requesting the high court allow cameras in the courtroom when arguments are presented in the case involving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), also known as “Obamacare.”

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 arugments).

The court has never allowed the arguments to be televised; rather it releases transcripts for every case and audio recordings of high-profile arguments.

Grassley sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking the “court exercise its discretion to permit television coverage of Supreme Court proceedings when the Court hears arguments in the case of the federal health care reform law.”

“Modern technology makes televising the proceedings before the court simple and unobtrusive,” Grassley’s letter says. “A minimal number of cameras in the courtroom, which could be placed to be barely noticeable to all participants, would provide live coverage of what may be one of the most historic and important arguments of our time. Letting the world watch would bolster public confidence in our judicial system and in the decisions of the court.”

Leahy—who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee—read a statement during a Judiciary Commit meeting urging the court to allow cameras similar to those that televise Senate hearings and debates. “Unlike a trial court, where you may have some questions of how you run cameras, in an appellate court, it’s the easiest thing in the world to set up stationary cameras unobtrusively, the same way we do in the Senate Chamber,” Leahy said. “I don’t think any one of us [senators] stops to think where the cameras are,” he added. The cameras “are unobtrusive, and both the House and Senate have their proceedings available to everybody. We have it available in our committee meetings; we have also online streaming [of our hearings]. The United States Supreme Court should have that available so the American public can see it,” he said.

Pelosi issued a statement on the issue which says: “I join my colleague Sen. Grassley in a bipartisan call for the Supreme Court proceedings on the Affordable Care Act to be publicly available through real-time video and audio. When the Affordable Care Act is placed before the highest court in our country, all Americans will have a stake in the debate; therefore, all Americans should have access to it. Openness and transparency are essential to the success of our democracy, and in this historic debate, we must ensure the ability of our citizens to take part.”

In addition to the lawmakers, the Radio, Television Digital News Association, a broadcasters’ trade group; and C-SPAN, the non-profit company that provides video coverage of Congress, federal agencies and national events, have requested the Supreme Court allow cameras in the courtroom for that case.