Justice Clarence Thomas recently spoke at a Supreme Court Fellows program at the Library of Congress. According to reports, he addressed a wide range of court-related issues, ranging from the federal confirmation process to his own tenure on the court.
But this is the passage that really struck me:
“There’s a real decided difference between what is said about what goes on and judging and the court and what actually happens,” Thomas said. “There’s the real world and there’s the myth of that world.”
Thomas specifically cited accusations that judges “just want to execute people.”
“I haven’t met a judge who wants to execute anybody,” he said. “I haven’t met that judge yet. In fact, every judge I have met, going through these cases — look at what it does to your hair. You start out, your hair is black. You have lots of it. Then all of a sudden, you’re follically impaired. Your hair, what’s left, it turns gray, and you say, ‘Oh my God, another execution.’ Every one of us is like, ‘Did I get it right? Did I make a mistake?’”
In our tantrum-induced political environment, it’s easy to ascribe the worst motivations to anyone with whom we disagree, and even easier to caricature them as monsters. Judges struggle with the difficult issues more than most of us — and unlike legislators, have little or no opportunity to respond to brazen personal attacks.
As the United States Supreme Court begins another Term this month, calls for the Court to open its oral arguments to cameras are getting louder. The Court has traditionally brushed off these demands, and there is little reason to believe that it will respond differently this year. But there is yet hope for supporters of court transparency: the state courts continue to lead the way in allowing broadcasts of courtroom proceedings. Two examples from just this week illustrate the point:
Continue reading “On courtroom cameras, states continue to lead the way”
Justice Stephen Breyer appeared on a television interview with CBS This Morning‘s Norah O’Donnell last Thursday night, portions of which were shown on the television program on Friday morning. Breyer argued that cameras should not be placed in the Court in part because it could change the behavior of lawyers or Justices during argument. The full transcript and some video is here.
This is a silly position. Perhaps cameras would affect behavior a bit, but that change would be marginal at best. The Supreme Court already (and thankfully) has live audiences for its oral arguments — is a lawyer arguing before the Court and more than a hundred observers really likely to be affected by the presence of a camera or two? Nor have the Justices shown any individual reticence to talk to large crowds, or in front of cameras.
Maybe the Supreme Court should just hold its oral arguments in a private room, with only counsel attending, lest the presence of anyone else in the room make the Justices uncomfortable. Or maybe they should embrace the transparency in adjudication that historically has made the United States judicial system the envy of the world.
A new poll conducted by researchers at Penn State University has found that the U.S. Supreme Court continues to enjoy high levels of public legitimacy, notwithstanding the belief by many respondents that Justices should not serve on the Court for life.
The linked story contains additional information, including many comments on the Court from respondents. Ignore the idiotic headline about “Trump’s America,” which seems de rigeur for all mainstream media stories these days, even if (as here) they have nothing to do with the President. The poll itself is worth noting.
Almost 30 years after the PACER system was implemented for the federal district courts, and more than 15 years after district court dockets were placed on the web, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will adopt its own electronic filing system. The system goes into effect this November.
The Court’s announcement states that “Once the system is in place, virtually all new filings will be accessible without cost to the public and legal community.” I read that to mean that reviewing and downloading docket materials will be free, which would be an improvement on the costly PACER system. Let’s hope that is what is intended.
Thanks to recent state legislation, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will began posting video of oral arguments online later this year. The legislation may also open the door for the state’s highest court for criminal matters to broadcast some oral arguments live.
The members of the court do not sound particularly thrilled about the move, although they are trying to maintain a neutral stance now that the legislation has gone through. Said Presiding Judge Sharon Keller: “We decided years ago that we don’t want cameras in courtroom, but a lot of those judges are gone now, and I don’t know what the new judges think. But it does seem to be the wave of the future.”
Former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson strongly supported the move, which also increases pressure on the United States Supreme Court to permit video recording of its oral arguments.
Continue reading “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals introduces courtroom cameras”
Speaking at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention, Justice Stephen Breyer again expressed skepticism about video recording the Court’s oral arguments. Breyer stated that some of his friends have told him he does “ridiculous things” during argument, and that the presence of cameras could change the tone of the session.
I will leave an assessment of a public figure questioning public access to issues of public importance, all while speaking at a quasi-public event, as an exercise for the reader.