Sotomayor, Kagan backtrack on cameras in the Supreme Court


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Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, dashing even faint hopes that April's historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised.

In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court.

Sotomayor told an audience in West Palm Beach, Florida, that cameras could change the behavior of both the justices and lawyers appearing at the court, who might succumb to "this temptation to use it as a stage rather than a courtroom."

"I am moving more closely to saying I think it might be a bad idea," she said.

During her confirmation hearings in 2009, Sotomayor told lawmakers she had a positive experience with cameras and would try to soften other justices' opposition to cameras.

Speaking at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, Kagan told an audience that she is "conflicted" over the issue and noted strong arguments on both sides.

Kagan said that when she used to argue cases before the court as Solicitor General, she wanted the public to see how well prepared the justices were for each case "and really look as though they are trying to get it right."

But Kagan said she is wary now of anything "that may upset the dynamic of the institution."

She pointed to Congress, which televises floor proceedings, saying lawmakers talk more in made-for-TV sound bites than to each other.

"If you look at different experiences, when cameras come into a place, the nature of a conversation often changes," Kagan said. "Honestly, I don't think Congress is a great advertisement for this."

The comments come less than two weeks after demonstrators briefly disrupted proceedings in the courtroom and managed to sneak a camera past security to record part of the protest. It was the second time in a year that the group 99Rise was able to smuggle a camera in and post footage on its website.

Other Supreme Court justices, including Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, have also batted down the idea of cameras in the courtroom, even though nearly every state allows courtroom proceedings to be televised and research suggests it doesn't have any harmful impact on the judicial system.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has long called for cameras in federal courtrooms and is re-introducing legislation this year that would allow it.

Last month, a coalition of media and public interest groups called on the court to open the same-sex marriage arguments this spring for broadcast.

"While the cases affect millions of people's everyday lives, only those present in the courtroom that day will get to see and hear the oral arguments as they happen," the Coalition for Court Transparency said in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts.