Washington Secrets

Justices crack door to letting cameras in Supreme court

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Two long-standing "No" votes on letting TV cameras capture oral arguments at the Supreme Court indicated a change Thursday that could eventually lead to the installation of C-SPAN cameras like those in the House and Senate and White House briefing room.

At a hearing to discuss the court's $86 million budget, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy openly fretted that advertising-starved newspapers have been snuffing out court reporters around the country and that might require cameras in courts.

"One of the things that we're facing with newspapers facing critical financial problems, they are laying off court reporters," said the justice. "This is a real check, because you need an experienced reporter to know if that judge is being irascible and unfair or just necessarily stern with an attorney," Kennedy added.

"The blogs won't take care of that. Blogs can fill in for what a lot of newspapers do. They can't fill in for this. So it may be that cameras in courtrooms are more important, not less, when experienced...reporters are not paid by the press to do the job they historically do," he said.

While he was talking about lower courts, many of which already allow cameras, the Supreme Court also suffers from a reduction in longtime court reporters.

Fellow Associate Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that he'd be open to court experiments with cameras and called for studies of the impact TV cameras have on state courts.

Agreeing with Kennedy that he still doesn't support cameras in the Supreme Court, Breyer said, "I want to see a little bit more of how all this works in practice. I'd give people the power to experiment. I'd try to get studies not paid for by the press of how this is working in California, of how it affects public attitudes of the law, I'd write some real objective studies. I know that's a bore, but thats where I am at the moment," he said.

C-SPAN counsel Bruce Collins said that numerous independent studies have already been done and many state and federal courts have installed cameras with no impact on court proceedings. "Studies have been done and they come up empty," he said. "The U.S. Supreme court is something of an outlier," added Collins whose public affairs network has been pushing to place cameras in the court since 1985.

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