Televise the Supreme Court, or risk more bootlegged filming

Feb 28, 2014 Televise the Supreme Court, or risk more bootlegged filming

In the summer of 1982, I was floored by the movie Diva, playing at a Boston arts movie house that simultaneously showed Diner and My Dinner With Andre, the triple D’s. The Diva was played by soprano Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez whose character insisted so much on sound purity that she refused to be recorded, lest that purity be diluted. Her character was such a musical sensation that one fan made excellent bootlegs of her performances, and gangsters killed in search of those bootlegs. The bootlegger finally played the bootlegged music for the Diva, which convinced her to be recorded.

Now, this week, one or two bootleggers smuggled camera phone(s) into the United States Supreme Court, and recorded shaky images (here) of oral argument, barely making the proceedings audible, other than of the bootlegger’s cohort, near the rear of the visitor’s gallery — as a Supreme Court bar member, I get premium seating up front via a separate, short, lawyers’ line — speaking out against the Citizens United decision, for instance, before being removed from the gallery.

It appears that the bootleg video taken this week is a rare bootleg. I anticipate that this bootleg will inspire more people to find ways to smuggle in camera phones, tape the Supreme Court, and post the proceedings on YouTube. Does the Supreme Court want the nation and world to see its proceedings by bootleg or by in-the-open filming?

To the nine Supreme Court justices, I say this is the twenty-first century. You make up too powerful an institution in what should be an open society, for you to shroud your proceedings so much in the shadows that only visitors waiting in long lines — sometimes too long to enter, and with the shortest line only allowing a few minutes in the courtroom — can visualize Supreme Court proceedings. It is not enough that proceedings are audiotaped and released later. It is time to televise Supreme Court proceedings live.

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