Justice Shouldn’t Be Blind To TV

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia took an unusual but correct step last week when he apologized to two print media reporters. They had used small tape recorders to capture his words as he spoke at a school in Hattiesburg, Miss. Their tapes were forcibly erased by an overzealous deputy federal marshal.
In a letter to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Justice Scalia said he was “upset” by what happened, and in the future would allow the use of recording devices by print reporters to ensure accuracy.
However, Justice Scalia reiterated his ban on any audio or video coverage of his remarks, claiming he has a First Amendment right to bar television cameras. He is the judge, but other experts say there is no such constitutional right. In fact, because he is a public servant whose opinions are important to our entire society, we believe he has an obligation to allow accurate coverage of his remarks by electronic as well as print media.
The fact is that today millions of people get their news from television. While TV journalists are still free to report on what he says by reading his words for him, that is not the same as allowing people to hear what he says and how he says it, with his emphasis and pauses.
Justice Scalia is already the subject of considerable controversy over his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, with whom he socializes and goes on hunting trips. Now, his refusal to allow electronic coverage indicates a further lack of enlightenment about the dynamics of modern society. Supreme Court justices have enough ways to hide behind their office. Unlike officers of the other two branches of government, they don’t have to at least occasionally face an electorate.
We call upon Justice Scalia to immediately change his policy and let TV record and share his public words and actions. We also call upon Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist to issue a policy guideline asking all justices to allow TV as well as print to cover their public activities and comments.
This does not mean we think all court hearings should be open to cameras, because in some cases the rights of defendants may be at stake. However, when a justice goes out in public, on those infrequent occasions when they actually share their thinking, the media should have the right to cover. And we mean all the media-not just that branch that existed before the advent of electricity.