It’ll never catch on here …

First Impressions via Concurring Opinions







Via MediaLawProf Blog and Concurring Opinions, I learn of a fascinating symposium (html | pdf) in First Impressions, an online companion to the Michigan Law Review, on Televising the US Supreme Court. The articles wax and wane on the issue. From the Concurring Opinions post (with its links to pdfs of the individual articles):

The Honorable Boyce F. Martin, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit contends that televising Supreme Court proceedings would help educate Americans about how their government works and heighten awareness of important legal issues.

University of Michigan Law Professor Christina B. Whitman argues that televising Supreme Court proceedings would mislead viewers by only randomly telling them something useful about the Court and is unnecessary because the Court is already more open than the government’s other branches.

Supreme Court Correspondent for the Legal Times Tony Mauro believes that Senator Specter … should emphasize the benefits of televising to the public’s right to know rather than justifying the legislation as punishment for the Justices’ questioning of congressional motives. …

University of Michigan J.D. Candidate Scott C. Wilcox proposes a compromise: to forestall congressional action, the Justices should consider voluntarily introducing archival video recording to be available for viewing at the National Archives.

Of course, it’ll never catch on here … not the televising of the Supreme Court (though that won’t either) but the discussion of whether it should even happen.

Update (25 May 2007): One reason why I’d like courts of final appeal to be televised is provided by the following exchange from the High Court of Australia (hat tip: Peter Black’s Freedom to Differ):

… here is an amusing moment in the High Court from oral argument in Santos Limited v Chaffey:

MR BENNETT: We would submit that that is simply something that is so far from the concept of acquisition of property, even though that may be its apparent affect on a particular person, that it is outside the prohibition. To argue to the contrary and to say that one looks only at the effect on the particular person, is to pick up – there is only one case I know which picks up that argument and that of course is The Castle where it was argued that the nature of one’s home was such that it was something the acquisition of which was in a different category because of its significance to the owner. The argument succeeded in that case, but the case is not generally regarded as authoritative for that proposition. Those, your Honours, are the submissions for the Attorney-General.

GLEESON CJ: Thank you, Mr Solicitor. Yes, Mr Walker?

I would love to have seen the expressions on the judges’ faces while listening to this closing submission. The Castle (imdb | wikipedia) is a tremendously funny Australian movie about a family who resisted the compulsory purchase of their home to make way for an expansion of Melbourne airport (well, tremendously funny for many Australians and some lawyers). It’s pretty formulaic – David versus Goliath; dysfunctional family triumph against the odds – but elevated above the routine by strong performances and some gems in the script. In one gloriously memorable scene, the family’s riotously incompetent lawyer (in whom they have a misplaced if unshakeable faith – think Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons and take away reason and accountability), submits that the compulsory purchase should not be allowed to proceed for constitutional property reasons:

…in summing up, it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and… no, that’s it. It’s the vibe.

Better representation eventually wins the day for the family, and they get to keep their house. And that, in part, is the submission in Santos Limited v Chaffey. However,whilst the expressions on the judges’ faces would have been priceless, the main reason for televising this case is that it relates, as The Castle did, to a matter which affects the everyone’s lives: the constitutionality of a statute which potentially infringes upon property rights.

Bismark remarked that those who like sausages and laws would sleep easier not seeing either being made; I happen to like both, and happen to think that I’d sleep a lot easier in the knowledge that I could see that they were both being made to the highest standards. Moreover, if we can see laws being made (even on the rather dire Oireachtas Report on RTÉ) why can we not see when they are being found constitutional or not? And when will we actually start to discuss this issue?

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