By Gianna Melillo
Nation & World Editor
In the wake of the tumultuous Senate hearings involving Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a slew of evaluative content has been published on the internet. Most of this content stems from the video recording of the hearing that was broadcasted live on Sept. 27.
Yes, the hearings did yield some entertaining comedic material, and yes, it was informative for the public to see the demeanors of both parties. However, one has to inquire –– at what cost was this footage achieved? What does the public gain from televised political proceedings like Supreme Court hearings?
Eric Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University outlined his arguments for televising Supreme Court proceedings in an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune. Segall equated the current procedures of publicizing the proceedings to a “blackout” of information.
He states that the status quo “deprives the American people of something that is rightfully theirs: the ability to observe government officials perform important duties that only a select few can witness in person.”
Segall continues to argue, “There may have been a period when cameras in courtrooms presented unknown risks, but that time is long past. Fifty state supreme courts already allow them, including the Texas Supreme Court, which live-streams and archives all of its oral arguments.”
When the decision of whether or not to televise is weighed against the consequences, it is evident there are very good reasons why Supreme Court trials are not televised.
As Edward Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center points out, “The culture of the court is…predominantly textual. The overwhelming majority of the justices’ work consists of reading and writing, with reasoned deliberation among the justices about the meaning of legal texts.”
Usually, 90 minutes after the trial, transcripts and audio recordings of Supreme Court proceedings are made public. They are then open to interpretation, scrutinization and judgement.
History has proven time and again that individuals, especially those with high ranking positions, are prone to act differently when cameras are rolling. Look no further than the infamous Kennedy-Nixon debates the in the 1960s. Those who tuned in were swayed, regardless of if they wanted to be, by the “show” each individual put on when televised.
In the age of 24-hour-cable news channels, live streaming, and incessant citizen journalism, serious questions arise as to whether it is the content of what’s being broadcast that creates impact and influences society, or the portrayal of that content by those involved.
Supreme Court proceedings are just one example of influential political discourse to which the public should arguably not have unfettered access. The average American citizen does not fully grasp every legal concept and procedure standard in court, much less the context behind the actions of members of the highest court in the nation.
Should these proceedings be publicized for immediate scrutiny by those who usually have very limited understanding of the context and consequence of the trial? Would that not result in a largely uninformed populus with extremely strong opinions on something that is supposed to be the pinnacle of fairness?
If this Pandora’s box is opened and Supreme Court procedures are to be televised live, then all of the detriments that come along with reality TV, such as staging and dramatization will come too.
As Whelan points out, “The court would become more politicized, and the resulting resentment and distrust among the justices would disserve the ideal of reasoned deliberation — an ideal, to be sure, that is often not realized but that is at least still professed and pursued.”
If we decide to broadcast, how can anyone guarantee that a fair and balanced trial will take place given all of the obvious risks?