Justice Scalia's comment about voting as a "racial entitlement" is proof that we need cameras inside the Supreme Court hearings.
Let me finish tonight with this.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At stake: whether nine states, primarily in the South, will be unencumbered from government pre-clearance when changing voting procedures.
The arguments and questioning were pointed and evidenced a divide between the conservative and liberal jurists. At one point Justice Antonin Scalia said the law, once a civil rights landmark, now amounted to “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” And that remark created the sharpest exchange of the morning, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the other end.
“Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?” she later asked a lawyer challenging the law, with an edge in her voice that left little doubt she was responding to Justice Scalia’s statement. “Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?”
I was thinking something while reading about that exchange between Scalia and Sotomayor—namely, I’d like to be able to watch it on my TV or my iPad.
When going through confirmation in 2009, Sotomayor said she liked that idea. “I have had positive experiences with cameras,” she said. “When I have been asked to join experiments of using cameras in the courtroom, I have participated. I have volunteered.”
But more recently, she expressed a change of heart, telling Charlie Rose: ”I don’t think most viewers take the time to actually delve into either the briefs or the legal arguments to appreciate what the court is doing”, she said. “They speculate about, oh, the judge favors this point rather than that point. Very few of them understand what the process is, which is to play devil’s advocate.”
Her answer is a problem. Even if most Americans couldn’t follow the arguments, that’s no reason to shut us out. Ironically, that logic sounds similar to what was used to justify the poll restrictions that necessitated the Voting Rights Act. And I’ll bet this week, Justice Sotomayor wishes a camera had recorded Justice Scalia’s intemperate remark.
Senator Arlen Specter was a champion for cameras in the court room. He once said, ”Since the Supreme Court of the United States decides the most important issues facing America, its open proceedings should be televised to inform the public how its government operates.”
Specter was right. It’s time to televise the court.