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Professor Lisa McElroy Presents Her Case for Cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court

April 03, 2012

Professor Lisa McElroy examined whether cameras should be permitted to record U.S. Supreme Court proceedings during a lecture at the law school on April 2.

Presently, no cameras are permitted in the Supreme Court to record oral arguments or other proceedings, McElroy reported. Therefore, as McElroy pointed out, the general public’s access to the Court is relatively limited to the rare photo taken when a new justice is appointed to the Court, audio recordings of arguments, and copies of decisions released on the Court’s website searchable by case name only. These limitations have prevented members of the general public from drawing their own opinions about the Court, McElroy said.

In addition, by limiting access, the Court has done well to paint a flattering self-portrait, McElroy said. Many view the Court as a majestic, omniscient and untouchable authority that cannot be judged itself, McElroy claimed. McElroy likened the Court’s image to the Oracle at Delphi, an ancient Greek prophet who would retreat to her temple and emerge with influential proclamations about government policy and procedure. Indeed, as McElroy mentioned, some refer to the Court as a “temple,” or “marble palace.”

Cameras in the Court would strip the justices of their anonymity, making them not only more accessible but also more relatable to the public, McElroy argued. There is also very little evidence to suggest that placing cameras in the Court would change the justices’ behavior, present a security risk or taint the image of the Court, McElroy said. The public would be empowered to form its own opinion of the Court rather than relying on the limited media coverage that might present bias opinions of the Court proceedings.

At the very least, the Supreme Court should allow cameras in the courtroom for the fundamental reason that citizens should have the right to see their government at work and, as part of the judiciary branch of government, the Supreme Court should not be exempt from public scrutiny, McElroy concluded.

McElroy teaches the Supreme Court Seminar at the Earle Mack School of Law. From 2009-2011, Professor McElroy wrote the Plain English column on SCOTUSblog. Recently, McElroy was featured in a National Law Journal article discussing the Supreme Court’s recent involvement in highly politicized cases such as the Affordable Care Act case which concluded arguments last week.