An overwhelming majority of Americans across party lines want more transparency from the Supreme Court.
Seventy-four percent of the 1,000 adult men and women surveyed by McLaughlin and Associates said they support installing cameras in the court and broadcasting proceedings to the public, and 72 percent support live audio broadcasts.
The Coalition for Court Transparency, which is an alliance of 18 media and legal organizations that advocates for a more transparent Supreme Court released the results to The Daily Caller Wednesday. “In a country governed by the rule of law, citizens have the right to see that law debated,” said Doug Kendall, co-founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which is a CCT member.
A range of political views were accounted for in the poll. Thirty-four percent of respondents self-identified as conservative, 31 percent as liberal and 36 percent as moderate.
“It’s almost unbelievable that three-fourths of Americans agree on anything tangentially political these days, but we’re seeing the same results on cameras in the court, across party lines, in poll after poll,” said Michael Ostrolenk, co-founder and chairman of the Liberty Coalition, another CCT member.
A survey conducted in April by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps found 71 percent of adults polled support cameras in the court, and a similar poll conducted by Fox News in 2013 found that 77 percent of registered voters polled support cameras in the court.
Courts around the country have been testing out cameras and limited access to live-audio streaming, but the Supreme Court has so far rejected either type of access, usually on the grounds that the public spotlight would negatively affect the Justices and lawyers.
“It may be good for the public, but whether it’s good for the court remains to be seen,” said Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow and American public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
“We worry about the impact on lawyers; I worry about the impact on judges,” Chief Justice John Roberts said at a 2011 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Conference. “We unfortunately fall into grandstanding with a couple of hundred people in the courtroom,” he added. “I’m a little concerned about what the impact would be.”
But Gabe Roth, spokesperson for the CCT, attributes the reluctance to change to institutional inertia. “It’s a general sense of the importance of keeping tradition,” he said. “And it’s just general reluctance to accept any sort of new technology, even if it’s something that supports our democracy and moves it forward.”
Roth added that small news outlets around the country should not be punished because they are unable to send a reporter to Washington. “It’s a media access issue,” he said.
The decision to allow cameras in the Supreme Court is up to the Justices at this point, but while most express neutral or positive feelings about the idea initially, they remain reluctant or change their minds later on.
Justice Antonin Scalia said in 1990 he was in favor of having cameras in the court initially, but is less in favor now. “Our sessions are open and anytime any of you is in Washington, I certainly invite you to attend, urge you to attend,” he explained. “I think it’s a good show myself.”
Asked about the prospects of cameras in the courtroom, and greater transparency, Roth said the CCT is “hopeful.”