GSU Symposium Panelists Call for Cameras at US Supreme Court

Katheryn Hayes Tucker, Daily Report
February 17, 2016 | 0 Comments
L-R Robert Barnes, Dahlia Lithwick and Adam Liptak take part in the Keynote discussion at the GSU College of Law symposium Invisible Justices. Thursday February 11th 2016.
L-R Robert Barnes, Dahlia Lithwick and Adam Liptak take part in the Keynote discussion at the GSU College of Law symposium Invisible Justices. Thursday February 11th 2016.
John Disney/Daily Report
The absence of cameras at the U.S. Supreme Court dominated discussion and debate among judges, professors, students and lawyers at Georgia State University last week.
The conversations took place at a GSU College of Law symposium titled “Invisible Justices: Supreme Court Transparency in the Age of Social Media.”
Organizers— Professor Eric Segall and Law Review editors Luke Donohue and Christine Lee—took care to bring in a mix of voices. For example, Professor Nancy Marder of Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law said that putting the high court on visual display would not further the cause of justice. And attention was paid to the justices themselves arguing against cameras, fearing that news clips from their proceedings would be misleading.
But the consensus was clearly on the side of bringing the high court technologically into the 21st century.
“It’s a government proceeding that we have a right to see,” said Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett. He noted that his court’s arguments have been recorded by cameras for years. The results have been “uniformly positive,” with none of the drawbacks predicted by opponents of cameras at the highest court.
Willett was introduced with an unusual distinction: having the most Twitter followers of any Supreme Court justice in the country. He has 29,900 followers, and has tweeted 20,100 times—including once during his own panel discussion. He said Twitter is a useful tool for busy judges who face election deadlines.
“I wouldn’t tweet so much if I didn’t have to run for office,” Willett said.
A highlight of the camera and tweeting discussion came when Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—appearing via Skype and looming overhead on a screen—pulled out his own smartphone and began to take pictures, then texting and tweeting them. Laughter filled the auditorium. The moderator, Brigham Young University law school Associate Dean RonNell Jones, asked if someone would please take Posner’s picture and tweet it. Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Dillard obliged and tweeted it within a few seconds.
With regard to cameras in court, Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias stood on the side of change.
“We have cameras in our courtroom. Shock,” Nahmias said, adding that most state supreme courts do. “It works fine.”
Cameras at the U.S. Supreme Court would have a dramatic effect on news reporting, suggested Segall, who is a faculty advisor to the law review and author of a book on the court, “Supreme Myths.”
Network news under-reports on the Supreme Court because they don’t have cameras inside, he said, adding. “The national news would spend more time on the Supreme Court if they could roll the tape.” Segall said that justices only go on television when they want to sell their books.
In addition to judges and professors, the symposium also included journalists covering the U.S. Supreme Court. Segall and Donohue moderated a lunch presentation with three Supreme Court reporters: Adam Liptak of The New York Times, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and Newsweek and Robert Barnes of The Washington Post.
Another question on the table was whether justices should have term limits. Liptak said the founders may not have counted on longevity in framing lifetime appointments, although he noted no difference in performance of justices by age. And he added that the average justice is still younger than the average member of the Rolling Stones. (The discussion took place on Friday, two days before Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly at age 79).

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