Dateline: April 8, 2006
Have you ever wished you could watch sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court on live television? So does Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), and he's in a position to do something about it.
In a Washington Post editorial, Specter recalls the historic end of the 2000 election in demanding the the Supreme Court be ordered to allow television coverage of its public proceedings. "The U.S. Supreme Court was under siege on Dec. 11, 2000. TV vans and their giant satellite dishes surrounded the courthouse, while inside the election of a president of the United States was about to be decided, in the case of Bush v. Gore," writes Specter. "And yet, in a city where the piercing eye of television examines almost everything, there were no cameras covering this momentous event, just as there is no televised coverage of any proceeding before the justices. It's time for that to change."
As Specter points out, while Congress has the unchallenged power to determine several other key aspects of the Supreme Court, including the number of justices (nine), the court has so far "steadfastly rebuffed all efforts to get them to open their public proceedings to electronic coverage."
Specter further chided the current Supreme Court's bent for increasingly assuming what he calls a "super-legislature status" in striking down laws passed by Congress.
"I agree that our constitutional system is best served by giving the Supreme Court the last word, but there is no doubt that congressional procedures and authority have been severely diminished by the court," Sen. Specter writes. "And the public needs to be able to assess these issues by shining a televised light on the justices."
On March 30, Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would direct the Supreme Court to permit TV coverage, and establish specific guidelines by which the Court could exclude cameras on a case-by-case basis. The bill, S. 1768, has been placed on the Senate's calendar for future debate.