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FTC Letter: High Court Would Serve Public, Itself by Lifting Broadcast Ban

Executive director Gabe Roth wrote the following letter to the editor of the Lexington (Ky.) Leader-Herald, which the paper ran on Oct. 4:

Justice Samuel Alito’s arguments in favor of maintaining the broadcast ban at the U.S. Supreme Court are unconvincing. Allowing cameras into court hearings, he believes, would make his institution ‘as popular as Congress’ and sound bites would ‘distort what happens during the oral argument.’ Not true.

The Supreme Court is already experiencing near-record low popularity, in part due to its insistence on preserving the video and live audio ban and abiding by ethical and financial standards that are the most lenient among the branches. Plus, print and online reporters are already using sound bites from court hearings; they’re called “quotations.”

This issue appeared before then-Judge Alito when he was on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. ‘We had a debate within our court about whether we would or should allow television cameras in our courtroom,’ he said at his 2005 Supreme Court confirmation hearing. ‘I argued that we should do it.’

As the justices start hearing cases again this month, Alito’s 180-degree turn on cameras should come full circle — for the American public, who expect greater transparency from their government, and for the court itself, which, amidst the rancor elsewhere in Washington, would do well to broadcast its mild yet thought-provoking hearings for all to see.

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