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Supreme Court Denies Camera Coverage for Health-Care Arguments

The court has never allowed arguments made before it to be televised

The U.S. Supreme Court will not allow cameras into the courtroom when it hears oral arguments over President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law.

The court has scheduled March 26, 27 and 28 to hear the arguments in the six cases that are challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). The court has never allowed arguments made before it to be televised; rather it releases transcripts for every case and audio recordings of high-profile arguments.

Nonetheless, members of Congress, including Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.); the media, such as C-SPAN; and stakeholder groups, such as the Radio, Television Digital News Association, requested the court allow cameras to record the arguments, a request the court denied without providing a reason.

In a statement the court said, “because of the extraordinary public interest in those cases, the court will provide the audio recordings and transcripts of the oral arguments on an expedited basis through the court’s website.”

In addition, the court will post the audio recordings and unofficial transcripts as soon as the digital files are available for uploading to the website. The audio recordings and transcripts of the March 26, 27 and 28 morning sessions should be available no later than 2 p.m. The recording and transcript of the March 28 afternoon session should be available no later than 4 p.m., the court says.

“Anyone interested in the proceedings will be able to access the recordings and transcripts directly through links on the homepage of the court’s website. The homepage currently provides links to the orders, briefs and other information about the cases,” the court’s statement says.

Grassley, who is sponsoring a bill—the proposed Cameras in the Courtroom Act—requiring the Supreme Court to allow cameras during arguments, was informed by Chief Justice John Roberts that video broadcasting will not be allowed in the court for the health-care arguments.

In response, Grassley issued a statement saying: “Every American should have the opportunity to see and hear this landmark case as it plays out, not just the select few allowed in the courtroom.

“The health-care reform law has ramifications for the entire country. Video coverage would help with the public’s understanding of not only the controversial new law, but also the American judicial system. It’s disappointing that the chief justice isn’t allowing video coverage of the case, but I appreciate his willingness to provide expedited release of the audio and transcript to the American people.”

In addition, an official with the Center for Legal and Court Technology (CLCT), a joint program of the William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts, said the Supreme Court’s decision on cameras in the courtroom “was unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

“The court is deeply concerned about live video coverage,” Frederic Lederer, CLCT director, told Government Video. While the court has never provided an explanation for its reluctance to allow cameras, there has been speculation the justices are concerned about their privacy as well as their safety outside of the courthouse, he said. “They (the justices) might be the only people of great responsibility in Washington who can walk around the streets without being noticed.”

Despite the privacy issues, Lederer said it would “have been very useful for the public to have seen how complicated the issue is, and how seriously it is being taken by all parties. It is unfortunate the court did not chose to permit—at least on this one occasion—coverage.”