US_Supreme_CourtUSA Today has reported that the US Supreme Court is being urged to be more open in its proceedings. Members of Congress and watchdog groups, including the Constitutional Accountability Centre,  have urged the justices to allow cameras into the courtroom for the first time, broadcast live audio of their proceedings and adopt a binding code of ethics. Some progress has been made in the past few years; same-day audio from court arguments has been released in a few cases, beginning with Bush v Gore in 2000. Same-day written transcripts have been made available to the public since 2006. Across the country, two pilot programs have inserted cameras into some lower federal courts. The latest three-year pilot, set to conclude next year in 14 district courts, from Florida to Washington and from Massachusetts to Guam, got off to a slow start and has been beset by the refusal of many lawyers and clients to have their civil cases filmed. Arguments against cameras in court  include concerns that judges and lawyers will ‘grandstand’ for the benefit of the camera, and that cameras could give Americans the mis-impression that everything depends on the oral arguments, rather than the reams of legal briefs, lower court rulings and historic precedents the justices read and research.

Public seats are available in the Supreme Court,  only for about 400 people, and many of the seats are reserved for members of the Supreme Court bar, friends and family, journalists and others. For the most popular cases, members of the public must wait in long lines for hours or even days. Most of those who do get in can stay only a few minutes before making room for others.

There are also increased concerns over judicial ethics.  Critics of the court want increased access to the justices’ financial disclosure statements and a more intensive focus on ethical behavior. Fueling those demands are some questionable actions by justices, ranging from speeches at fundraising events to refusals to recuse themselves from cases. Liberal groups cite appearances at quasi-political events by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito as examples. Conservatives mounted an unsuccessful effort to get Kagan to recuse herself from last year’s case on President Obama’s health care law, citing her prior work as U.S. solicitor general.

The UK Supreme Court does permit cameras for its hearings, and many of the concerns cited by those concerned about the use of cameras in court have not materialised. There have been no reported incidents of ‘grandstanding’ by either judges or counsel. Perhaps the US could look across the pond to see cameras in court in action.

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