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Can Congress Require Cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on December 13, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week's Senate judiciary hearing is raising some interesting questions about cameras in the Supreme Court. Just a day before the hearing, Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley introduced the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. That bill instructs the Court to televise oral arguments.

The Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts brought in a high-profile panel to discuss the issue, including former Senator Arlen Specter and SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein. The only thing attendees could agree upon is that such a mandate would raise significant constitutional issues.

That's because the justices have vehemently opposed cameras in the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts recently expressed his concern that cameras would impact the lawyers and judges. He pointed to the amount of grandstanding lawyers already exhibit when just a few hundred persons are looking on.

If Congress forces the issue, it would undoubtedly lead to what Tom Goldstein calls a "constitutional showdown" between the two branches of government. Can the Justices refuse to obey the statute? Can they challenge its enforcement? How do they handle appeals?

Despite these issues, he believes that the Supreme Court would have to uphold the legislation, reports ABC News.  Cameras in the Supreme Court are ultimately about the administration of the court -- a procedural question, if you will. As demonstrated by existing legislation, Congress can regulate the use of court property.

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Maureen Mahoney, a well-known Supreme Court advocate, also testified last week. She suggested that any camera mandate would be struck down under the doctrine of separation of powers, explains ABC News. Congress may control court grounds, but the justices have always controlled the courtroom.

Despite all of the speculation, we may never find out whether Congress can require cameras in the Supreme Court. Similar bills have repeatedly failed to gain traction.

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