Supreme Court continues ban on video footage of oral arguments

Photo by Kjetil Ree

Photo by Kjetil Ree

By Ryan Blodgett

The Supreme Court is continuing its longstanding tradition of not allowing oral arguments to be videotaped.

Some thought this policy might soon change, given that the two newest Supreme Court justices supported videotaping oral arguments at their confirmation hearing.  Since then, both have changed their minds.

Recently, Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat down for an interview with Charlie Rose, in which she explained that few people would understand an oral argument, so there was not much point to allowing them to be recorded on camera.

Well, she is absolutely correct about the first part. Supreme Court arguments are complicated and difficult to reduce to sound bites. Transcripts of the arguments are available online, but I can’t recommend reading one unless you are thinking about going to law school and need to be convinced otherwise.

Also, audio transcripts of oral arguments are available, which seems like it would be plenty adequate to get the information out there.

So what’s the harm in videotaping the arguments? Chief Justice John Roberts spoke on this issue a couple of years ago. He argued that allowing Supreme Court arguments to be videotaped would cause lawyers to grandstand (more than they already do).

Maybe it would make the Court more political as news outlets turned videos of hypothetical questions into reputation-damaging, out of context sound bites. This could in turn deter justices from asking helpful questions out of fear of appearing foolish. Given that possibility, why take the risk?

In any case, it seems likely to me that the Supreme Court will start allowing oral arguments to be videotaped eventually, it’s just a question of when.  For now, the answer is simply, “not yet.”

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Posted by on February 22, 2013. Filed under Judicial,Recent News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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